From the very moment that Audra McDonald opens her mouth to sing as she undertakes the role of jazz legend Billie Holiday in the just opened Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, you know you are in for a very special evening.
One of the incredible talents of the theatre today, Ms. McDonald fiercely attacks the role and brings a no holds barred performance.
She has changed the way she sings…moving her lovely sound to the back of her throat, finding the proper Billie Holiday phrasing, as she heartbreakingly croons the songs, and when she performs the text, she speaks just as Billie would. McDonald has captured the troubled, rambling addicted personality that Billie Holiday became shortly before she passed away.
Taking place at the Philadelphia club, Emerson's Bar and Grill in March of 1959, Billie relates her very personal stories in between songs, or instead of singing. Lady Day talks about her men, her descent into drugs, her mother (whom she loved,) her passion for singing, as well as the outrageous racism she endured. As Billie continues to drink hard liquor through her performance she slurs and stumbles more and more.
She leaves the stage for her fix, as her three man band plays a song, and comes back with her little dog Pepi in her arms, one of her gloves rolled down, presumably to provide access to the drug.
Flat out funny, as well as pitifully sad, Ms. McDonald performs the piece masterfully as she runs the gamut of emotions for the 90 minutes she is on stage.
Backed by a fabulous trio of musicians, with Shelton Beckton playing her musical director, Jimmy Powers at the piano, George Farmer on bass, and Clayton Craddick on drums, you really do feel as if you have stepped back in time. With subtle photo projections, and a main floor seating area complete with cabaret tables and bar service, this is the closest to a true Billie Holiday performance that you are going to get.
Written by Lanie Robertson and directed by Lonny Price, this theatrical experience is not to be missed.
And this just in; Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill has just been extended through August 10th. You now have just a little more time to see this fabulous limited run performance.