About Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
Five-time Tony winner Audra McDonald sets the Circle in the Square stage ablaze with a devastating performance as Billie Holliday in Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill. Lanie Robertson’s play with music depicts a real-life nightclub performance by the legendary Holiday in 1959 Philadelphia, just a few months before her death at age 44. In a near-solo turn, McDonald recreates Holliday’s signature style, crooning 15 of the singer’s iconic tunes including “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” and “Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.” In between songs, she relates stories from her checkered past including her struggles with drug addiction, numerous arrests, failed relationships and encountering racism as she toured the deep south with Artie Shaw’s band. The only other characters are the three musicians who accompany her. Lonny Price, who directed McDonald in 110 in the Shade and the New York Philharmonic concert production of Sweeney Todd, stages the production.
You’ll feel you’re actually in the presence of this musical legend. McDonald interacts with the audience members, especially those in the Circle Club area who are seated at cabaret-style tables for a ringside view of this unforgettable show.
One hour and 45 minutes (no intermission)
Did you know?
Audra McDonald has won Tonys in three different categories—Best Actress in a Musical (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Carousel, Ragtime), and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Master Class, A Raisin in the Sun). If she wins for Lady Day as Best Actress in a Play, she will be the only performer to win in all four acting categories.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill was first presented Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in 1986 with Lonette McKee. Holiday has also been played by Diana Ross in the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues and Dee Dee Bridgewater in Lady Day, another bio-play, presented Off-Broadway in October 2013.
Playwright Roberston says he based his script on an actual incident. A friend of his had attended Holiday’s 1959 performance in a small North Philadelphia club. She was “quite high,” sang 12 of her songs for an audience of seven and then staggered out.
Aficionados of jazz, musical theater, great acting and singing will all revel in this tour de force performance.
Good for kids?
Definitely not for small children. Really mature teenagers should be able to appreciate and handle this show.
Circle in the Square Theatre Location Information:
235 W 50th St.
New York, NY 10019
A, C, E, 1 to 50th St.; N, Q, R to 49th St.
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