LADY DAY, ALIVE ON BROADWAY
When Audra McDonald hits the stage and begins to sing in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, the lucky folks in attendance know they are in for a very special evening. To say Ms. McDonald is captivating as the troubled jazz legend Billie Holiday might be an understatement. It seems eerily clear from the start that Ms. McDonald has channeled the distraught heart and tortured soul of Billie Holiday, giving us all that we could possibly hope for and more.
At times painful, playful, angry, and always fascinating, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill is an extraordinary performance of moods, with the one consistent thread being first-rate entertainment. Winner of two Tony Awards – for Best Actress (Ms.McDonald) and Best Sound Design (Steve Canyon Kennedy) – this show, which recently extended its limited engagement through September 21st, is a rare flower (presently in full bloom) this summer on Broadway.
Set in Philadelphia in 1959, a few short months before Billie Holiday’s untimely death, the play is the swan song of a great jazz legend, performed by a masterful artist at the peak of her abilities. Without question, it is Ms. McDonald’s star that shines brightest in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill but all involved merit credit. Especially notable is her long-time co-collaborator and director Lonny Price, as well as the playwright himself, Lanie Robertson. With the help of a big league backing trio (George Farmer on bass, Shelton Becton on piano, and Clayton Craddock on drums), the show is complete and capable of addressing the difficult truths of Ms. Holiday’s alcohol and heroin addictions.
One can’t help but fantasize about the incredible new music that could be created by these four fantastic musicians were they to work together outside of the play. In fact, it would be a welcome addition should Mr. Farmer, Becton, Craddock and Ms. McDonald wish to step out of “Emerson’s Bar and Grill” after their Broadway engagement ends and perform as a modern day contemporary jazz quartet. For now though, it is our great fortune to enter the time capsule with them and catch a glimpse of the ghosts and listen to the echoes of a legendary Lady and her bygone Day.