The Music of Nina Simone
Created by David Grapes and Robert Neblett
Arrangements by Vince di Mura
Child prodigy. Jazz superstar. Civil rights activist. Political exile. Nina Simone was all of these things, and more. One of the true divas of the 20th century and a genuine musical powerhouse, she defined a generation and defied classification. Silky, soulful, and untamed, her voice will put a spell on you. She’ll melt your heart, she’ll chill you to the bone. But watch out! Cross her and she’ll lash back, leaving you singing the blues!
Simply Simone – Musical Numbers
My Baby Just Cares for Me
Gin House Blues
Balm in Gilead
If You Pray Right (Heaven Belongs to You)
Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair
To Be Young, Gifted, and Black
I Loves You Porgy
I Put a Spell on You
Children Go Where I Send You
Revolution (Parts 1 and 2)
Why? (The King of Love is Dead)
The Look of Love
Hush Little Baby
Alone Again Naturally
The Other Woman
Love Me or Leave Me
Ne Me Quitte Pas
Papa Can You Hear Me?
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood Take Me to the Water
Here Comes the Sun
What a fantastic new musical revue you have created. Our audiences raved about the production. We sold out every single performance and, if the schedule allowed, we could have played many more.
Simply Simone, the Nina Simone musical, is spectacular. I wept, I laughed, I had chills. Those contralto voices! The glittery elegant gowns! The songs! The fierce, revolutionary heart! My God, it’s so timely – damn it, why must it be so timely?
With its powerhouse vocalists, entertaining and sassy storytellers, and vast musical variation, Simply Simone is anything but simple.
Simply Simone takes the audience on a winding musical journey from classical, gospel, and jazz to blues, rock n’ roll, Broadway, and back. This production is no small undertaking for the four ladies who portray the “High Priestess of Soul”, Miss Simone, as this performance is packed to the brim with as much music as the four talented divas can handle. Simply Simone contains 32 total storytelling songs of joy and pain, acceptance and rejection, heartbreak and love, death and celebration of life, while telling the entirety of Nina’s story with truth and heart.
All four ladies wowed with their vocal strength and talent, especially when they were found blending together as one Nina in their seamless, reverberating harmonies.”
The show leaves the audience dancing and clapping. Nina could express hurt, but she also knew how to stir the spirit.
An embarrassment of riches, and of the highest order.
The multiple aspects of Simone are powerfully captured in Simply Simone: The Music of Nina Simone, an impressive, intense and sometimes thrilling biographical revue.
the most relevant musical revue you’re likely to see any time in the near future
Simply Simone sings and zings.
Simply Simone is a little show that delivers an oversized wallop. Catch it if you can!
A small but mighty musical revue about artist, activist, and bon vivant Nina Simone.
NINA 1 16-20 years old – The Child
Innocent and energetic, she is always hopeful for a brighter future. She is also the constant reminder of an idyllic past. She is dressed in a simple cotton dress. High soprano voice.
NINA 2 20-30 years old – The Singer
She is on the verge of success, optimistic yet cautious. She’s been burned and is a little gun shy. She finds her deepest pleasure in music. She is dressed in an elegant concert gown.
NINA 3 30-40 years old – The Activist
She is angry and ready to buck the system. As racial turmoil increases in the country, she becomes more personally involved. But as that mood of protest increases, she also becomes more psychologically vulnerable and susceptible to moments of emotional exhaustion and collapse. She is dressed in an early 70s pantsuit with a jacket.
NINA 4 40-50 years old – The Exile
She is wise, yet jaded. She has seen the way of the world and chosen to reject it, rather than continue to live amongst hypocrisy and hatred. She speaks her mind bluntly and doesn’t care who takes offense. She is dressed in an African-influenced dress with a fabric headdress. Rich alto voice.
Vocal Requirements: As for the vocal range of the cast; all 4 singers are basically altos. Nina 1 is a high alto but not a soprano. Nina 2 is a contralto. low d. the general range is a low e below middle c to the c above middle c. nothing higher even when they sing harmony. This is a typical range for an African-American female singing jazz/gospel/R&B. All of the characters are played by African-American women. This is an ensemble piece, and no one role is more important or should be featured more than any other. While these actors do represent various personality traits or qualities of the historical Nina Simone, no attempt should be made to represent her onstage, vocally or physically, with the exception of the “concert” moments that are recreated, with dialogue from Nina’s own words. The actors are basically playing themselves, filtered through the lens of Nina’s words and music. Let the music guide the character development and the tone throughout the performances. Adhere to Nina’s distinct arrangements and musical style, but do not attempt to emulate her specific vocal idiosyncrasies.
The Setting: The setting should evoke the kind of jazz club in which Nina started her career – a smoky sensual location where people would have a drink and listen to great music. For the original production in North Carolina, we used a simple unit set and a rear projection screen. On stage where all the elements needed to create the evening; a piano costume pieces, props, four chairs and a few small tables, microphones, etc. The idea for any setting should first serve the music and the actors. The original production also contained some dance, so that was also reflected in the ground plan. And if you lack space and/or financial resources, then I would argue that the piece would also work just as well with the four performers standing around a grand piano making musical and emotional connections with the audience.
Stage Properties: Unit set containing a black baby grand piano, four hand held or wireless microphones. One functional retro (Sony) 50’s microphone on a stand, a few tables and chairs, some hand props, and perhaps other elements that might be found in a nightclub setting
Sound: Sound is very important to the success of SIMPLY SIMONE. Sound reinforcement mattered to NINA SIMONE and it will matter to your audiences. Therefore, like Forever Plaid, SIMPLY SIMONE is intended to be performed using microphones as sound reinforcement. When possible wireless body mics should be used on each performer rather than using stand microphones. In addition to these microphones there can be additional mics used during the production. Nina Simone in particular was skilled at working with a microphone in her concert performances. Depending on the size of your theatre, you may also want to reinforce the piano or stand up bass. My recommendation is to start sound rehearsals as soon as possible and locate the best sound engineer you can find to mix the show during each performance.
Pianist/Musical Director: This is perhaps the most important hiring decision to be made for the production. This person controls almost everything about the production (tempo, style, energy, etc.). The perfect player would be an EXCELLENT sight reader, who not only has played musical theatre productions, but is familiar with the great standards of the 20th century The score, while fully written out, is designed so that an accomplished musician can add his/her artistry to the performance. You need an outstanding player who is capable of managing the multitude of tempo, key and style changes that are written into the score. In many ways, this person becomes a fifth character in the production so look for a great musician who also has an interesting stage personality. In our initial production, this musician also served as Musical Director and conducted the stand up bass player, guitarist and drummer from the piano during performance.
Transitions: The musical score is constructed in a way that the music almost never stops. It was our intention that dialogue is given underneath solo piano in many of the “narrative sections.” It is important the performance appears seamless to the audience. Sometimes one of the Nina’s will sing accapella while another scene is taking place.
Dance: The show contains a number of dance opportunities for the cast. Dance is a wonderful element and adds much to the production. The choreography should have an ethnic and/or African feel to it and should come out of character. Any dance created should appear natural and spontaneous. The choreography should posses class and style and look completely effortless. Also, never be afraid to let people stand still in a spotlight and “sell the song.”
Character, theme, and style: Each of the four characters is unique. Each actor represents a different yet distinctive aspect of Nina Simone’s personality (see the character descriptions). Yet, the actors are also playing themselves. It is important that they feel comfortable enough to bring their own experiences to their role. Remember that no one in the cast should make any attempt to imitate Nina Simone. The show is not about imitation but rather is a celebration of Nina’s unique talent, political activism, and the incredible music that she wrote or covered in her concerts and recordings.
Vocals: Whatever you do, do not let anyone do an imitation of Simone! That is a sure fire ticket to disaster. What is important is to have everyone connected to the production listen to as many of Simone’s recordings as you can get your hands on. Then get the performers to “channel” what they feel and hear from those recordings. You are after the essence, style, and personal way Nina Simone interpreted a song, not an exact duplication of her performance. The music is always your guide and the arrangements your anchor. Cast great singers and then have them perform these songs with style and grace. Listen to her daughter’s fantastic new recordings of her mothers work at www.simonesworld.com and you’ll see what I mean.
Script: Do not allow actors to ad-lib lines to the audience or add additional dialogue. Do not add any additional songs. Summerwind Productions only licenses the songs contained in the Simply Simone script/libretto.
Additional Music: It is recommended that you do not use any recorded music of Nina Simone during pre show or intermission.
Costumes: Act I – Let each of the characters unique voice guide you. This act is less formal. Allow for movement. Act II – African influenced costumes with a more sophisticated feel. Must allow for dance
Lighting: The design should allow for as many different looks as possible. This production lends itself easily to the use of dramatic specials, gobos and break-up patterns. Two follow spots are recommended. All lighting should be more theatrical than realistic and evoke mood rather than place.
Marketing: While many people may not know much about Nina Simone’s personal history they will recognize and respond to the wonderful songs she wrote and recorded. In your advertising, you may use any song title contained in the show. You may also use the words “The Music of Nina Simone” when using the Simply Simone title. Remember, you do not have authorization or permission to use Nina Simone’s picture or likeness to advertise the production. SWP does not authorize you to use any copyrighted images of Nina Simone. Simply Simone is NOT authorized or endorsed by the Nina Simone Estate.
David Grapes II
David is an Emeritus Professor of Theatre at the University of Northern Colorado, where he served as the Founding Director of the School of Theatre Arts and Dance and Producing Artistic Director for The Little Theatre of the Rockies for 15 years. David is also an award-winning director, actor, drama critic and playwright, and has provided administrative and artistic leadership for a wide variety of theatrical institutions including two professional regional (LORT) theatre companies. An active member of SDC, DGA and AEA his work as a stage director (250+ productions) and actor has been seen at major regional theatres across the United States. As a DGA member, David is the creator or co-creator of ten original musical revues, six plays, a screenplay, and numerous adaptations (www.summerwindproductions.com), which have enjoyed over 500 productions worldwide. David holds a BA from Glenville State University (Alumnus of the Year 2010) and an MFA in Acting/Directing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In 2021, he was inducted into The American Theatre College of Fellows at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Robert Neblett is an award-winning freelance director, dramaturg, and playwright located in St. Louis, MO. Robert is an alumnus of Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, where he earned a BA in English and a BA in Theatre. As a graduate student, he attended Washington University in St. Louis, where he earned an MA in Dramatic Literature and a PhD in Comparative and Dramatic Literature. He has taught theatre, literature, writing, fine arts, and film courses at University of Northern Colorado, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Mountain View College, Tarrant County College-Northeast, University of North Texas, SUNY-Oneonta, St. Louis Community College-Meramec, and Washington University in St. Louis.
Under the artistic direction of David Grapes, he served as Dramaturg and Assistant Director on several productions with the Tennessee Repertory Theatre: Cyrano de Bergerac and Romeo and Juliet in 2000; A Streetcar Named Desire in 2002; The Taming of the Shrew in 2003; and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Diary of Anne Frank in 2005. He has also served as Dramaturg and Adaptor of several productions at the University of Northern Colorado, including The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Queen Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Amadeus, Heartbreak House, Once in a Lifetime, and The Imaginary Invalid.
Scripts he has created/written/adapted include Simply Simone: The Music of Nina Simone, Dracula: The Case of the Silent Scream, Roundabout, A Wrinkle in Time, Alice in Wonderland, and Lysistrata. He has published articles in American Theatre and New England Theatre Journal.
Vince di Mura
Vince is a composer, arranger, jazz pianist and musical director; appearing on concert stages and theatres throughout North America, Canada, Europe and Latin America. He is currently the Resident Musical Director and Composer for the Lewis Center of the Arts at Princeton University, where he has served since 1987. He has conducted theatre seasons and fulfilled numerous compositional commissions at theatre across the U.S. His arrangements for Summerwind Productions include “My Way,” “Christmas My Way,” “Simply Simone” and “I Left My Heart.” Mr. di Mura is also the author and curator of “A Conversation with the Blues:” A 14 part web instructional series on improvisation through the Blues, Produced by Soundfly Inc. Vince has 6 CDs on the market including his most recent release, “Meditations on the Sacred Heart.” All of which are available at CDBaby.com and any number of internet outlets.
PROGRAM CREDITS FOR TITLE PAGE
Conceived by David Grapes and Robert Neblett
Book by David Grapes and Robert Neblett
Original piano/vocal arrangements by Vince di Mura
First Workshop Production
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Directed by Jeffrey West
Dr. K. Dawn Grapes, Donna Baldwin-Bradley, Michael Van Patter, Ashley Stewart, Tomeka Allen, Melanie Matthews, Sandra Jones, Jim Fisher, Jody Cauthen, Joya Moore, Yumarie Morales, Cherish Martin, Dr. Abby Burke, Trevor Bishop, Hal Moncrief and the faculty and staff at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Simply Simone – Videos
Simply Simone – Audio – Coming Soon
Summerwind Productions, LLC – Box 430, Windsor, CO 80528 Email: Summerwindprod@hotmail.com