Black is the Color of My Voice @ Seymour Centre

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (reviewed opening night Tuesday 26 March).

Black is the Color of My Voice is a lyrical gift indeed. Part storytelling, part songlist, Apphia Campbell’s one woman show takes us on a soulful journey through the life of music superstar Nina Simone. But it’s much more than a tribute show. It’s an emotional experience that will open your eyes to what lay behind all that glorious music; a lot of struggle, obstinate faith and pain. Campbell reimagines Simone in a character called Eugenia (Mena) Bordeaux, a child music prodigy destined for great things in a world dominated by segregation, civil unrest and terror. Campbell takes key moments from Simone’s life to examine the inspiration for her music, putting Simone’s core values at centre stage. It’s a fascinatinag back story of a woman with incredible courage and determination, who stood her ground despite the horrendous prejudice she faced. In an industry that expects performers to just be entertainers, not activists, Campbell highlights the pivotal moments when Simone eschewed all conventional expectations to give dignity and purpose to her art (“no, I will not go on stage if my parents cannot sit near the front because they are colored!”) Campbell also navigates Simone’s experience with domestic violence, and the passion she found in her voice as a result of terrible hate crimes, including the assassination of Martin Lurther King. Black is the Color of My Voice isn’t supposed to just make you feel good by reminiscing over Simone’s greatest hits, but to make you feel alive, and in her words, ‘cleansed’ from toxic situations which still resonates today.

Campbell’s show has been a consistent global hit since her inception of it 11 years ago. This is the first time it’s being performed in Sydney, in the Everest Theatre at Seymour Centre, a fantastic venue that allows both intimacy and grandness to be experienced. Campbell’s rich velvetly voice carries through in the generous space, connecting with her audience on a deep visceral level. The staging is sparse and aesthetically clean, a chair, a table and a bed, and a trunk from which Campbell pulls out letters and other precious momentos that prompts her monologue with her late father. The colourful accents in drapery and Campbell’s outfit (a head wrap and lively patterned tunic) allows the eye to focus on Campbell’s performance as she embodies the various personalities in the life of her character, including her beloved parents and later, her abusive spouse. The sound bytes from Dr King and JFK immerses us in an iconic era of political advocacy and civil unrest, when music was very much a part of healing, strength and unification, worth so much more beyond its commercial value.

My special +1 guest for the night was Benedicta Gensen, an emerging writer with African roots who has often spoken to me about her struggle of growing up in a environment dominated by racial prejudice, violence and cultural insensivity (she’s lost count the number of times people have pointed out her ‘exotic appearance’).

At the end of Campbell’s breathtaking 75min set, Benedicta’s eyes were shining and her face was streaming with tears. I asked the stage manager after the show if Campbell would like to meet my friend. Campbell agreed. The two women met in the foyer and hugged and hugged, laughing with joy at the beautiful connection that had been created. I asked Benedicta afterwards to share her thoughts with me about the show and Campbell’s performance. This is what she had to say:

Thank you Apphia Campbell, James Seabright and Seymour Centre for a moment in life I will never forget. It has enriched me and opened me wider to love no matter what challenges me.

I was brought to tears yet once again this morning as l pondered Campbell’s performance which I believe was the pouring forth of her whole being, a calling for humanity to respect that we are ONE under the umbrella of the universe.

You could feel the reverent silence in the audience as she spoke about this depth of love being intrinsic to the core of our being. As the song says, teach your children well and what a magnificent world to be imagined. Campbell’s performance took me to that place.”

Black is the Color of My Voice presented by James Seabright is performing at Seymour Centre until 30 March. For tickets and showtimes, go to

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