“Natalie and Nina,” Stellar Austin Cabaret Theatre Review of To Nina!

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Songbird Natalie Douglas wowed the adoring audience at the Kodosky Lounge (Long Center) on Sat. night. Me, too! She took fans new and old on a musical & emotional roller coaster ride in her moving tribute to Nina Simone, “To Nina.”

Simone was the American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger and civil right activist who died five years ago, having made a strong and lasting impact on culture and numerous other artists.

Natalie and Nina, both African-Americans, both mesmerizing performers, but I find another interesting connection: Dr. Simone, in concert, album and real life, fluctuated between exuberant happiness and tragic melancholy, due to a bipolar disorder (undisclosed to the public until her death 40 years later). Douglas, ironically, holds a Magna Cum Laude B.A. degree in psychology from USC and a Master’s Degree in Psych from UCLA. Coincidence?

Douglas, seven-time MAC Award Winner, took the audience from a Work Song, with a criminal dripping with remorseful sweat to a Halloween timely gem, “I Put a Spell on You.”

If you’re not familiar with Natalie Douglas, then, like me, you are unfortunately distracted and out of touch. (www.nataliedouglas.com) She’s just about everywhere. Actress (film and TV, network to PBS).

Performer (Birdland Jazz Club and touring). Recording Artist (CD’s “To Nina, Live at Birdland” and “Not that Different.”

And “everywhere” is here. For two magical, musical nights, she was in Austin, thanks to Austin Cabaret Theatre. (www.AustinCabaret.org) Natalie, joyfully making her first trip to Texas, was ACT’s second offering in its “Guilty Free” season. Next up . . . wait for it . . . is a one-night stand, “Jim Bailey is Judy Garland Live!” on Jan. 8. And it, too, should be worth the wait.

ACT gave Natalie two backdrops from which to work. A simple gold curtain, and the glassed-in view of the spectacular Austin night-time skyline. Add the single spotlight, and a few changeable colorful light hues and voila! A cabaret, complete with nibbles, great drinks, including the “Nina-tini,” but sans the loud drunks and choking smoke. Credit Stuart Moulton, Producing Artistic Director, for adroitly pulling it off once again.

But back to Natalie – smooth, silky, sexy, raucous, throaty at times and practically touching the audience with her “mike patter,” infectious high laughter, and marital anecdotes. Simply delightful. One of those indelible evenings that end too soon with one wanting more.

It was hard to believe Ms. Douglas had gone through 15 songs, from the Gershwins-Heyward’s “Summertime/I Love You Porgy” and “House of the Rising Sun” to the audience-participation “Forbidden Fruit” and Simone’s own “Why? The King of Love Is Dead,” Nina’s tribute to MLK.

And did I tag Natalie as generous? Oh yeah, she gave nice time to her long-time musical director and talented pianist Mark Hartman and musicians Kris Afflerbaugh on bass and Phil Bass on drums. (Yeah! You read that right). The combination of the four made the entertainment go down as easy as those “Nina-tinis.”

Preston Kirk, Spicewood TX

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About nowplayingaustin

The Austin Creative Alliance is a nonprofit performing arts service organization working to cultivate an environment where the performing arts can grow and flourish. We serve over 130 arts organizations with marketing, ticketing, audience development services; AEA paymaster, information & referral services — plus access to affordable health, liability, and event insurance. We also provide online professional development seminars, fiscal sponsorship services for emerging arts groups, host annual unified general auditions, annual theatre industry awards, and consistently advocate for the many benefits the arts bring to our quality of life.

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