Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill: In brief
Audra McDonald is just one statue shy of a Tony Award six-pack; perhaps this tribute to jazz legend Billie Holiday will bring more gold. Lonny Price directs the cabaret-style monodrama, scripted by Lanie Robertson and featuring Holiday's signature bruised tunes: "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Strange Fruit" and others.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill: Review by Adam Feldman
It’s been quite a Holiday season. Last fall, Dee Dee Bridgewater starred in the short-lived Lady Day, an Off Broadway biodrama that depicted jazz martyr Billie Holiday in a sometimes intoxicating (and increasingly intoxicated) 1950s concert. Now the nonpareil Audra McDonald—she of the five Tonys and the singular variety—is driving Lanie Robertson’s similar vehicle on Broadway: also called Lady Day, also set at a 1950s concert, and featuring many of the very same anecdotes and Holiday favorites (including “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit”). But the McDonald version is superior in all regards. Directed with restraint by Lonny Price, the play is a moving glimpse into the final days of a brilliant talent that was, by then, too frequently wasted.
McDonald’s unflappable aura may seem ill-matched to the Holiday persona, but she brings the pain as required, cussing and railing against the “ofays” in tales of a life blessed with music but marked by substantial abuse. If the dialect sounds a touch forced at first, McDonald eases into it as the show goes on, and delivers Holiday’s broken-horn stylings with rough aplomb. Lit by her radiance, Lady Day breaks your heart.—Theater review by Adam Feldman
THE BOTTOM LINE McDonald triumphs as a diva in decline.
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