“I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a chance to play a princess or a queen or anything of that nature,” says Shayla S. Simmons. “That’s one of the most exciting things about doing Aida.“
The New York-based, Baltimore-born actress is taking on the lead in the hit Elton John/Tim Rice musical, currently at Constellation Theatre.
Her intense, resonant performance of the Nubian princess who, after being forced into slavery, rises to help her people is being hailed by local critics, including this publication’s, who called Simmons “a powerhouse when enacting the drama of Aida’s captivity and reticent romance.”
To prepare for the role, Simmons derived inspiration from powerful women in history.
“Fannie Lou Hamer, Coretta Scott King, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth — all these pivotal women of history,” she says. “I really looked to them and read their stories to see how they handled situations. They were the first of their time. How daunting must it have been to fulfill those tasks and complete those things in their time when it was unconventional and unheard of?”
While Simmons, last seen in D.C. in Signature’s production of Dreamgirls, would love to one day play Shug Avery in The Color Purple (“I just love the story and the music — it’s really one that I can relate to”), she’s presently more interested in writing, producing, and directing.
“I don’t find myself too interested in most of the shows that are on Broadway at the moment,” she says, bluntly. “There’s very few shows for people of color, or shows that I can relate to, or that are relatable to the current times for people of color. So I’m interested in creating my own.”
Aida runs through November 18 at Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets are $25 to $55. Call 202-204-7741, or visit ConstellationTheatre.org.