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PlayMakers Repertory Company’s No Fear and Blues Long Gone: Nina Simone Testifies to Art’s Power to Drive Social and Political Change

If Nina Simone were alive today, she would probably be Yolanda Rabun. Wake Forest, NC powerhouse actor/singer Yolanda Rabun can belt out a song with the best of them, and PlayMakers Repertory Company’s second-stage series (PRC2) has supplied the perfect vehicle to showcase her amazing talents, while sharing a poignantly moving story with an important message.

Durham, NC playwright Howard L. Craft’s No Fear and Blues Long Gone: Nina Simone, which played to sold-out houses every night of its world-premiere run at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre, brings the incomparable Nina Simone (1933-2003) back from the grave, and Yolanda Rabun channels her very essence — spiritual as well as musical — to present this enthralling, inspiring spectacle.

Speaking through Rabun, Simone relates some of the high- and low-lights of her life, telling how a young, black musical prodigy named Eunice Kathleen Waymon of Tryon, NC, became the iconic singer, songwriter, musician, activist known as much for her courage and determination as for her musical gifts and accomplishments.

In the course of the evening, this one-woman show features conversations between Nina Simone and various other artist/activist icons as well as with her father, her mother, her husband, and her younger self. We learn about the tragic derailment of a promising career as a classical pianist “because white America did not want black hands playing Bach.”

Yolanda W. Rabun stars as Nina Simone in PlayMakers Rep’s production of No Fear and Blues Long Gone, written by Howard L. Craft and directed by Kathryn Hunter-Williams (photo by HuthPhoto)

The audience also finds out that Simone created her new identity “as a hiding place for Eunice,” so as not to offend her mother (a preacher) when she started singing jazz (“the devil’s music”) at Atlantic City, NJ’s Midland Bar and Grill. Yolanda Rabun’s innate magnetism draws us in, and we find ourselves intensely sharing Nina Simone’s experiences.

Howard Craft’s script moves from monologue to song and back again, guiding us through the odyssey of Simone’s life, and Carrboro, NC director Kathryn Hunter-Williams ensures that the journey is smooth and seamless.

The show features the music of an onstage trio of accomplished musicians (Russell Favret on guitars, Brevan Hampden on drums and percussion, and Christian Sharp on bass) that blends perfectly with Rabun’s voice as she delivers Simone’s music (of multiple genres) in various settings during various stages of her career. Impressively, Rabun’s choices of postures and body-language convey the varying levels of self-confidence (and self-esteem) that Simone must have felt in certain situations.

More than an homage to the life and work of a determined, dedicated artist, No Fear and Blues Long Gone: Nina Simone is a testament to the power of art to drive social and political change and a call to the audience to join in.

The band for PlayMakers Rep’s production of No Fear and Blues Long Gone includes (from left) Brevan Hampden (drums), Russell Favret (guitar), and Christian Sharp (bass) (photo by HuthPhoto)

SECOND OPINION: Aug. 24th Cary, NC RDU on Stage review by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/2019/08/24/theater-review-playmakers-no-fear-and-blues-long-gone-nina-simone/ and Aug. 18th interview with actress Yolanda Rabun, playwright Howard L. Craft, and director Kathryn Hunter-Williams, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/podcast/ep-33-yolanda-rabun-howard-l-craft-and-kathryn-hunter-williams-talk-nina-simone-no-fear-blues-long-gone/; Aug. 23rd Durham, NC Indy Week review Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): https://indyweek.com/culture/stage/no-fear-blues-long-gone-nina-simone-playmakers-review/, Aug. 14th preview Sarah Edwards: https://indyweek.com/news/longform/nina-simone-childhood-home-preservation/, and Aug. 7th mini-preview Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/no-fear-blues-long-gone-playmakers-august-2019/; Aug. 19th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Aaron Sugarman: https://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2019/08/simone-story; and Aug. 19th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with playwright Howard L. Craft and actress Yolanda Rabun, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: https://www.wunc.org/post/high-priestess-soul-nina-simone-comes-life-one-woman-show.

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents NO FEAR AND BLUES LONG GONE: NINA SIMONE, a world premiere written by Howard L. Craft directed by Kathryn Hunter-Williams, and starring Yolanda Rabun, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, presented as part of the PRC2 Series.

TICKETS: SOLD OUT.

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY for last-minute ticket availability.

SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/show/nina-simone/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/476214149827896/.

2019-20 SEASON (Legacy Now): http://playmakersrep.org/season/2019-2020/

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/about-us/kenan-theatre/.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE: There will be post-show discussions, with cast, crew, and subject-matter experts, after each performance.

OTHER LINKS:

Nina Simone: The High Priestess of Soul (Tryon, NC-born singer and pianist, nee Eunice Kathleen Waymon, 1933-2003): http://www.ninasimone.com/ (official website), http://www.ninasimone.com/bio/> (official website bio), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nina-Simone (Encyclopædia Britannica), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0800510/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nina_Simone (Wikipedia).

No Fear and Blues Long Gone: Nina Simone (2019 world-premiere play): http://playmakersrep.org/show/nina-simone/ (PlayMakers Rep show page) and https://www.facebook.com/events/476214149827896/ (Facebook page).

Howard L. Craft (Durham, NC playwright): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/howard-l-craft/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.facebook.com/howard.craft (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/howardlcraft (Twitter page).

Kathryn Hunter-Williams (Carrboro, NC director and UNC-Chapel Hill Teaching Associate Professor, Literature): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/kathryn-hunter-williams/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), http://drama.unc.edu/faculty-member/kathryn-hunter-williams/ (UNC Department of Dramatic Art bio), and https://www.facebook.com/kathryn.hunterwilliams (Facebook page).

Yolanda W. Rabun (Wake Forest, NC actress and singer): http://www.yolandarabun.com/ (official website), http://playmakersrep.org/artists/yolanda-rabun/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.facebook.com/yolanda.rabun (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/yolandarabun (Twitter page).

REVIEWERS: Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews

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