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Larry Littany Litt
Fragile Explosion: Nina Simone
Written by Michael Monasterial
Directed by Elke Rosthal
Music by Rod Williams Jazz Trio
81 Christopher St., NYC
(St. John’s Lutheran Church)
Reviewed 20 January 2020 by Larry Littany Litt
A historical note: I saw Nina Simone live at the Village Gate in 1961. I had to sneak in through the kitchen where a high school friend of mine worked. I stood to the side since there were no seats in this basement theater/cabaret available. I remember the announcer said a recording was in progress. I still own that vinyl disk. It’s a cherished possession with its illustrated cover art portrait of La Simone. Yes I’m a fan in the true sense: a fanatic. Why? Because her tremolo and minor key changes made me shiver in my insensitive teens. Nina was the only singer who could do that for me. It was almost sexual, definitely intimate. I was hooked on jazz.
Last night I had the privilege and joy of seeing the closest I’ll ever get to Nina Simone Live. Playwright Michael Monasterial’s latest biographical tribute is titled "Fragile Explosion: Nina Simone." It’s a low budget, high energy and way great musical that tells the truth about her successes, her friends, enemies and troubles through music and dialogue. Monasterial’s well chosen words make valuable points and revelations about those turbulent times.
Sabrina Kershaw, with her magnificent stage presence, brought Nina Simone to life in the created cabaret setting of St. John’s in Sheridan Square Church. Backed by the versatile and highly professional Rod Williams Jazz Trio, Ms. Kershaw dazzled the audience with her versions of Nina’s standards. No, thankfully she’s not a Nina Simone impersonator. Kershaw has her own magical way with the songs I know so well. I wouldn’t want another Nina Simone. It would be like having another Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday. We have videos and recordings when we need a jazz songstress fix.
The point of Monasterial’s show is that black lives are lived through difficult times as best they can be. Some obviously better than others. When I as a privileged white writer am reminded of the dehumanizing crap both our prejudiced society and our racist government have put black artists through I’m also reminded that it’s up to us, to the fan/citizens, to vote these racists out. Oh yes, they’re still here. Strong opinion I know. It’s mine. Has nothing to do with Fragile Explosion except that Monasterial’s telling of Simone’s life is a trigger for me and I believe most of the audience.
The dedicated supporting cast members gave their all in support of Kershaw’s Nina. I could tell they loved the music and dancing even after weeks of rehearsal.
If you ever read or hear that Fragile Explosion: Nina Simone is up and running at a theater do not miss it. I cried tears of joy at the exuberant and uplifting climax, a rocking musical standing ovation that no one there wanted to end. Sabrina Kershaw is a gleaming jewel in a golden setting by Michael Monasterial.
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