Concert Chamber, Town Hall, Auckland Live, Auckland

01/10/2016 - 02/10/2016

Auckland Live International Cabaret Season 2016

Production Details

A Tribute to the High Priestess of Soul. 

Wellington-born Sheba Williams bedazzles in a show packed with the glamour, the music and the story of the legendary songbird, Nina Simone.

Sheba brings to life a wish list of Nina Simone’s timeless songs including ‘Feeling Good’, ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’ and ‘I Put a Spell on You’, in this high-energy show.

Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall
1 Oct, 8.15pm
2 Oct, 4pm
$18.00 – $266.00

60 minutes, no interval
Contains adult themes
Accessible seating available
Hearing aid loop performances

Theatre , Musical , Cabaret ,

A resounding success

Review by Nik Smythe 03rd Oct 2016

The Concert Chamber’s classic heritage character is a fittingly classy venue for this tremendous homage, showcasing the incredible legacy of the legendary High Priestess of Soul.  The three-piece band comprises a virtuoso jazz/blues drummer with effortless swing, a nimbly versatile upright double bass player, and grand pianist extraordinaire Ray Aldridge – the only one who’s name I manage to catch.*

Striding in with apposite majesty in her long sleek black top and skirt, hair bundled into her blue headscarf and sporting gold chains and bangles for Africa, so-to-speak, the woman of the literal hour makes an instant impact with her opening song ‘Chain Gang’.  Demonstrably a local legend-in-the-making in her own right, Sheba Williams’ wholehearted commitment to Nina Simone’s rich, passionately mystical music puts her in good stead to take on the honourable task.

It’s clear from the first that this is not a character impression: Sheba’s vocal tone is a few pitches higher, more melodic and resonant than her unique subject’s quintessentially deep timbre, but the beguiling blend of bold reverence and cheeky sass is all there.  A divergent artiste with a chequered history of glory and hardships, Simone was known for onstage petulance, taking a stern and often demanding approach to her audiences. 

Rather than channel the genuinely tragic, troubled roots of this infamous idiosyncrasy, Sheba has fun with it.  Addressing us convivially in her own Kiwi/Aussie accent she refers to us as “employees”, advising we’re all here to “work work work work” and ultimately calls upon the up-and-downstairs capacity crowd’s vocal assistance for at least half of the too-short ten song set.  

Throughout the relaxed yet powerful showcase, Sheba continues to engage and involve us, at one point walking around the tightly table-seated floor rewarding her “best workers” with flowers. Along the way she provides biographical snippets from Nina’s eventful history, observing that she never really found love from her mother or the mean, abusive men she tended to be drawn to. 

Improvised lyrics during a number of extended choruses and deconstructed bridge sections frequently include casual contemporary references, such as the Real Housewives and, seemingly inevitably, Donald Trump, etc.  This aligns well with Simone’s own assertion that it was her duty as an artist to reflect the times in which she lives. 

Of course the main purpose of a tribute is to illustrate the outstanding quality and depth of the protagonist’s work.  To this end the combo’s dedicated efforts are a resounding success, so to speak.  To a mid-range Nina enthusiast like myself, it’s a satisfying assortment of my favourite numbers, including ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’ and ‘Mississippi Goddamn’, and a few unfamiliar pieces to broaden my experience and appreciation of her extensive repertoire (forty albums in her lifetime!).

*One slight downside to the venue is the tricky acoustics; the larger the audience, the more quickly sound is swallowed up.  Overall it’s well mixed musically, but as Sheba’s vocal clarity is occasionally compromised by general hubbub, coupled with a lack of success locating any written musical credits for this production, I regret not in turn crediting by name this most worthy of rhythm sections.


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