Fresh from her tour-de-force performance as Billie Holiday we speak to the multi-talented Nina Kristofferson and discover her passion behind bringing the troubled singer’s life to the stage.
The story of the legendary singer has been told many times, but Kristofferson’s intimate performances as the iconic chanteuse Billie Holiday delivers audiences with a fresh connection to the tale. Featuring some of Holiday’s greatest hits including God Bless The Child, Lover Man, Strange Fruit, Don’t Explain and All of Me, the show offers both a celebration of Holiday’s life and an insight into the human condition.
With a vocal style that ranges from jazz and pop to musical theatre and opera, Kristofferson dazzling ability has led her to appear in film, television and radio, as well as a stint as a voice coach on the X-Factor.
TBB sits down with the multi-award-winning actor, singer, writer, educator and model Nina Kristofferson to talk about singing the blues and the joys of performing.
Please introduce yourself?
I’m Nina Kristofferson and I’m a creator, actor and singer who puts on her own shows from time to time – when I’m not collaborating or working on somebody else’s project. Oh yes and sometimes you can find me writing, educating others and voicing video games along with a splash of modelling.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.
Full of creativity and life.
When or how did you first become enamoured with the icon Billie Holiday?
I loved Billie Holiday from when I was a kid listening to her music… Immediately I was hooked and I performed Strange Fruit at Drama School which made some of the students cry. From then I realised the beauty of Billie Holiday and my voice and the ability to move an audience.
The show featured a cocktail of Holiday’s classic songs, which one do you enjoy singing most or resonates with you most?
I love them all and they all resonate to give an insight into the human condition. Our characteristics, interpretation and delivery ignite something different in each song. The lyrics of these songs get right into your soul and speaks to us individually. Strange Fruit kills me every time, it’s a powerful song that still resonates today.
The story of Billie Holiday’s life has been covered many times on stage and in film. Do feel the intimacy of your show allows you to bring a new or fresh connection to the tale for audiences?
The show is crafted stylishly to incorporate the dialogue and songs and I think this enables the songs to become the dialogue and the dialogue to become the songs cushioned on a historical backdrop. The Concert gives you a snapshot of the full Story – which takes you on a rollercoaster ride. Audiences have been enjoying the show since it first sold out at the Edinburgh Festival in 2011 followed by a sold-out West End Season in 2013, a No.1 Tour culminating in many awards.
The show has been running in Concert form since 2013 at various venues in the West End as well as performing at Festivals and was only stopped by COVID19 but I guess it’s like any good show or musical the audience dictates. It sold out again at Zédel’s Crazy Coqs.
No two performances are ever the same so it keeps it fresh in intimacy and craft. I Hope to be back in the West End and touring with the full Story if I can get another investor involved.
You give your all during the performance and it’s an incredible feat. How do you prepare for the show particularly given the emotional range required to portray Billie’s tumultuous life?
I’m an Olympian at my Craft, like most good performers from the physical and mental focus to the joy and excitement of delivering a full range of emotions. Aiming for repetition, vocal exercises, learning the dialogue and songs so you can be free to let go and be in the moment. So you invite the audience into your World. This creates its own energy and you, ‘stay in the pocket’ and the audience moves with you.
As an actor, singer, writer, educator, model, voice-over artist, you wear many hats. Is there one role you gravitate to more, or are there further avenues you wish to explore?
I enjoy working and as an educator it allows you to share your knowledge and give back. There are always lots more to be explored. I play the piano a bit so I’m visiting that at the moment as well as exploring more Theatre work and I’m now looking at TV and Film scripts. A drama or comedy would be nice. I would love to see myself on screen before the end of the year.
In the past, you’ve worked as singing coaching for X Factor Contestants. ITV has put the show on hiatus for the foreseeable future. Do you think talent shows are still a relevant route for new talent to be seen and discovered?
I think talent shows will reinvent themselves. It’s a quick road to becoming a star and certainly, if you really are talented – I say why not! Social Media is creating a route for talent to be seen and discovered and it is wild at the moment. The traditional route where you are trained is probably the more lasting out of all of them but a breakthrough star can come from anywhere.
What’s next for you? Are you planning on taking the show to further venues or do you have another project in the works?
I’m performed two shows recently. The other show, Timeless is a beautiful selection of songs from Beyoncé, Adele, James Brown, Dusty Springfield, Barbra Streisand, Puccini, Nina Simone and many more sung in 5 different languages and I finished my first run at the Pheasantry on the 13 & 14 August. However, more dates will be announced for both shows, which I’ll share on socials. My Billie Holiday Album is back on sale and I’m hoping to be back with the full Billie Holiday Story in Town or a possible UK Tour and I’m writing another theatre Project. I have a TV pilot that I would love to get commissioned. So I’m open to discussions and I have my eye on the big screen. Just have not found the right project yet.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU…
. A favourite book you have to have in your collection? To Be Young, Gifted And Black: Lorraine Hansberry & the title song by Nina Simone.
. A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Rhythm of Life from Sweet Charity & Ave Maria, Bach’s 1 st Prelude adapted by Gounod
. A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Films like To Sir With Love and It’s A Wonderful Life.
. The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? Mother Courage by Bertolt Brecht made me believe you could do anything in theatre with just a bunch of great actors and a few props.
. What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Hahaha, I leave the emotional rollercoaster rides for my shows… I’m pretty happy go lucky most of the time although HE is looking rather interesting.
More dates for Timeless and Nina Kristofferson’s Billie Holiday Story are to be announced soon