MANHATTAN, N.Y. (PIX11) — An off-Broadway theater production honoring one of history’s most iconic musicians, Nina Simone, is happening now at New World Stages. To mark the 19th anniversary of her passing, there’s a special show being held Thursday in honor of the classical pianist, singer and civil rights activist.

Writer, singer and actress Laiona Michelle is the mastermind behind the musical “Little Girl Blue” at New World Stages. She said bringing Simone’s story to the big stage has been rewarding but challenging too.

“I wanted to put everything on there, but you only get two hours when you’re telling a story on stage. So just really narrowing it down to isolating those pivotal moments in her life that made her so iconic,” Michelle said.

Those two hours include two acts that take place at a concert from a key moment in Simone’s career: The first takes the audience back to April 1968 in Westbury, New York, a few days after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; the second was at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in July 1976.

Simone, who suffered from mental illness, wasn’t diagnosed with Bipolar disorder until the 1980s. Considered a jazz musician, Simone rejected the label, preferring to be known as classical. 

A trained classical pianist, she became a foot soldier for the civil rights movement, which became apparent in her music and ultimately had a negative impact on her career.

“She was saying ‘Black lives matter’ before it became a saying. So when she wrote the song ‘Mississippi Goddam,’ she was screaming it loudly and proudly and declaring this to the country,” said Michelle.

The rights to the song could not be cleared for this show, but Michelle co-wrote the original “Angry Black Woman” to pay homage to the influential song, and sings one of Simone’s civil rights anthems that she popularized called “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.”

Little Girl Blue is slated to run through May 22. Visit telecharge for ticket information.