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Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) will present its critically acclaimed production of Nina Simone: Four Women, first staged last spring with Northlight Theatre in Chicago, to Lowell from Feb. 12 to March 8 only at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, according to Executive Director Bonnie J. Butkas and Interim Artistic Director Terry Berliner.
Kenneth L. Roberson directs Christina Ham’s play, which features the greatest hits of Nina Simone, including “Mississippi Goddam,” “I Loves You, Porgy,” “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” and “To be Young, Gifted and Black.” The Chicago Tribune said, “A remarkable show! It catches one of the great thinkers, activists, and musicians of the 20th Century as she surely was feeling in that given moment in time.”
The Chicago Sun-Times said, “From lush harmonies to fire-and-brimstone thunder, the cast is fearless!” Dionne Addai, Deanna Reed-Foster, Alanna Lovely, Ariel Richardson, and Daniel Riley comprise the cast.
For tickets, call the MRT Box Office at 978-654-4678, or visit MRT.ORG. Tickets start at $24.
Berliner described the historical events that sparked the play: “Shards. Sunday morning, September 15, 1963. The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four beautiful schoolgirls are killed when a bomb explodes during Sunday morning services. Their names: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie Mae Collins. Their ages: 11, 14, 14, 14. More than 20 others were injured. Why? A federal order came down to integrate Alabama’s school system. Some members of the KKK showed their displeasure thus. In Nina Simone: Four Women, Nina Simone, Auntie Sarah, Sephronia, and Sweet Thing dig into the rubble of our broken country – our broken humanity – and use the gift of Simone’s songs to share our outrage.”
The show brings to life Nina Simone’s original song “Four Women,” her tribute to the four little girls killed in that 1963 church bombing. Moments after the blast, four very different women – including Nina herself – huddle in fear in a basement across the street from the church and struggle to make sense of the devastation. As she grapples with sorrow and rage, Nina slowly begins her transformation from jazz club chanteuse to the civil rights activist we revere today.
Simone released the controversial song in 1966, and the track’s lyrics detailed what she believed to be the four archetypes of African-American women at the time. Playwright Ham brings the “four women” to life, merging the song’s character of Peaches with Nina Simone herself.
Ham, whose celebrated plays include Scapegoat, West of Central, and Crash Test Dummies, is a writer for one of Netflix’s most popular and darkest series, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” which kicks off a much anticipated season three on January 24.
The cast of Four Women includes Dionne Addai as Nina Simone (Eclipsed at Pegasus/Theater on the Lake and We are Pussy Riot at Red Tape Theatre); Deanna Reed-Foster as Sarah (The First Deep Breath at Northlight Theatre, TV’s “Chicago PD” and “The Chi”); Alanna Lovely as Sweet Thing (The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre Company; recurring role on TV’s “Empire”); Ariel Richardson as Sephronia (Twelfth Night at Writers Theatre, TV’s “Empire” and “Chicago PD”); and Daniel Riley as Sam Waymon/Music Director/Pianist (Othello and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story in Chicago).
Director Kenneth L. Roberson (Avenue Q, All Shook Up, and Purlie in New York City) leads the creative team, which includes Christopher Rhoton, Scenic Designer (Beau: A New Musical at Adirondack Theatre Festival and Into the Woods at the Hollywood Bowl); Michael Alan Stein, Costume Designer (Absolution and Devoted Dreams Off-Broadway); Lee Fiskness, Lighting Designer (The Children at Steppenwolf Theatre and 17 years at The Santa Fe Opera); and Lindsay Jones, Sound Designer (Slave Play and A Time to Kill on Broadway). Meghan Conroy serves as Production Stage Manager.
Circle Health serves as the MRT 2019-20 Season Sponsor. Farley White serves as Production Sponsor, with WBUR Radio as Media Sponsor, for Nina Simone: Four Women.
Single tickets range in price from $24 to $66. Three-show packages, including Nina Simone: Four Women, The Lowell Offering, and Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, start at $67. To purchase, visit www.mrt.org or contact the MRT Box Office at 978-654-4678.
MERRIMACK REPERTORY THEATRE www.mrt.org
Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) celebrates 41 years this season as the Merrimack Valley’s professional theatre. With a steadfast commitment to new plays, MRT annually produces seven works, including several premieres.
Under the leadership of Executive Director Bonnie J. Butkas and Interim Artistic Director Terry Berliner, MRT strives to fulfill its mission to “create remarkable new and contemporary plays that bring joy to our art form while engaging, entertaining and enriching our community.” The non-profit company guarantees that shows are accessible to audiences of all incomes; partners with businesses and other non-profits to fully engage the community; and contributes to the economic vitality of Lowell by attracting diverse audiences from throughout the region.
Recent acclaimed productions include The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley and Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, the two bestselling productions in MRT’s history; former Artistic Director Sean Daniels’ own autobiographical play, The White Chip, which played Off-Broadway this past October; I and You (Off-Broadway transfer) and Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, the most produced playwright in America; Women in Jeopardy! and the world premiere of Slow Food by Wendy MacLeod; KNYUM by Cambodian playwright and actor Vichet Chum; and The Lion, singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer’s award-winning musical memoir, which launched its national tour from MRT in August 2015, following critically acclaimed runs in New York and London