Nina Simone Black Diva Power

24 September 2013 | 8:45 am | Grace Robertson

Rather than disappointing fans, this play rekindles Simone admiration.

We warily take our seats for Nina Simone Black Diva Power. A decade after her death, Simone remains unchallenged as the high priestess of soul. As fans, we fear any attempt to recreate such a legendary figure would fail to do her justice.

But Ruth Rogers-Wright quickly annuls our trepidation in the title role. Entering the spotlight to the masterful accompaniment of pianist Steven Grant, she launches into My Baby with a timbre as low and entrancing as her shoulder-length hoops.  Like Simone, her strong gaze holds a striking presence over the audience, and by the end of the introductory song we are captivated and prickling with goose bumps.

Neil Cole's play laces Simone's songs with scenes detailing her friendship with playwright Lorraine Hansberry, and her sequential involvement in the early '60s Civil Rights movement.

Although the jeans and Vans-clad co-star seems neglected by the costume department, Akelo-Opio shines as the persistent Hansberry. Her convincing African-American accent booms through the Chapel Off Chapel theatre in her powerful Civil Rights speeches and witty dialogue. Rogers-Wright's Brixton roots are contrastingly audible throughout her dialogue, but not enough to distract from her accurately wry, stern and eccentric performance of the great diva.

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Rather than disappointing fans, this play rekindles Simone admiration. 

Chapel Off Chapel to 28 Sep.