Laiona Michelle, who dazzled audiences in in last year's George Street Playhouse production of her Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical, returns for a one-night only performance at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center on March 19 at 7:30pm in the Elizabeth Ross Johnson Theater.
Michelle joined WBGO's Gary Walker for a wonderful interview last year with the playwright and singer.
She returned this month to speak with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle about why she wanted to come back to the George Street Playhouse for a special concert.
"It's been a year since I visited the topic of Nina Simone at George Street and let me tell you it just rocked my world. It rocked New Jersey's world. We were nominated for eleven Broadway World awards. The audience was so infectious and excited about the piece and David Saint and the George Street Playhouse gave me so much love around the project, I really just wanted to come back and give them a gift. So this is my way of saying thank you to the New Jersey audience and really to celebrate Nina, someone I love so deeply. It feels just right to have it at the George Street Playhouse in their new home."
The native of Springfield, Massachusetts made her Broadway debut in Amazing Grace in 2015. She's excited about the one-night only show.
"It's going to be a good time. The first part of it is an opportunity for me as an artist to sing some of my favorites, like Dina Washington, some Gershwin, some classic Broadway tunes that I love. Of course we are going to end the night with some Nina Simone. That's what the folks are really coming for. Many folks probably didn't get a chance to see Little Girl Blue so I'm going to be able to share a little bit of that with them, with my band who is also part of the musical as well. So this is going to be a feel good night."
Michelle says being a new mom has made her life richer. She brought her son into the WBGO studios.
"The things that used to stress me out, the things I used to be so concerned about, they don't worry me as deeply anymore when I can go home to my son and find so much satisfaction and joy. Sometimes you have to turn the TV off, turn the cellphone off, tune out all the noise and just have a meal and a conversation. Young people to me they give you so much joy."
She brought her young son into the WBGO studios with her.
What's Laiona Michelle's message regarding Women's History Month?
"I think it's important that women start working more together. You know we talk about inclusion alot and there's still not enough of it happening. I see it happening more but we can still pay more attention to it. One of my goals as an artist in putting together this musical is bringing more designers of color and women to the table. Even with artistic directors when you look at the number of black women and women in general, the numbers are still very very low and alarming really, especially in the world we live in today. We are just as talented. We are creative. We have stories to tell. I think that a female lens on a story is so necessary."
Michelle says she's aiming for 2021 to see Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical in New York City.
"I'm so excited that I have a lead producer on this project. It's been a long journey. From the time I wrote this two years ago til landing at the George Street Playhouse til now going into off Broadway and of course we're eyeballing Broadway, this a special piece and Nina deserves it."
Michelle says she was about nine years old when her school went to a theater. A performing arts group came to her town to do Romeo and Juliet.
"I sat there and the lights went to black and I was like Shakespeare what is this? And I wasn't even interested in English class at the time. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I went to a catholic school and I was one of maybe five black students in the class. So we did have an opportunity to see quite a bit of theater, but I remember sitting in that theater and Romeo walked on stage and he was a black man and I said whoa! Oh my goodness. I didn't know we could speak like that. And from there, it awoken so much inside of me as an artist. I started reading Shakespeare plays. I really just immersed myself into theater, in English, in language and studied it. I was able to go on to Grad School at Brandeis University and continue my studies."
Click above to hear much more about Laiona Michelle and her upcoming concert on March 19.