Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill

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Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Written by Lanie Robertson
Characters Billie Holiday
Jimmy Powers
Pepi
Date premiered April 16, 1986 (1986-04-16)
Place premiered Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, Georgia
Original language English

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is a play with music by Lanie Robertson, recounting some events in the life of Billie Holiday. The play originally premiered in 1986 at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, and soon played Off-Broadway. The play opened on Broadway in 2014.

Production history[edit]

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill premiered at the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, Georgia, on April 16, 1986, with direction by Woodie King, Jr. and Reenie Upchurch as Billie Holiday.[1]

The play was next produced Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre on June 5, 1986,[1] and then opened in a Vineyard Theatre production at the Westside Theatre on September 7, 1986.[2][3] This production closed on May 17, 1987 after 281 performances. Directed by Andre Ernotte, Lonette McKee starred as Holiday. In February 1987 S. Epatha Merkerson took over the role of Billie Holiday.[4] The play won the 1987 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Book (Robertson).[5]

The Hollywood Playhouse (in California) produced Lady Day in October 1987, directed by Andre Ernotte, and with S. Epatha Merkerson reprising her role as Holiday. Ernotte said that he wanted to "deglamorize Billie: show the dark, sad side. So it's not so much a nightclub act as a theater play with music." He also noted that Merkerson brought another aspect to the role as an actress rather than as a singer.[6] The play was presented at the Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, Connecticut in November 2005, with Ernestine Jackson as Billie Holiday.[7]

The play opened on Broadway at Circle in the Square on April 13, 2014. Directed by Lonny Price, the production starred Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday and featured Shelton Becton as pianist Jimmy Powers. The sets are by James Noone, costumes by Esosa, lighting by Robert Wierzel and sound by Steve Canyon Kennedy.[8][9] The play was originally scheduled for a limited 10-week engagement, but was extended several times[10] until it finally closed on October 5, 2014.[11] Audra McDonald won her record-breaking sixth Tony Award for the production, and she became the only person to win in all four acting categories, this time winning for Best Actress in a Play. The play also won for Best Sound Design of a Play.[12]

The 2014 Broadway production was filmed at the Cafe Brasil in New Orleans and broadcast on HBO on March 12, 2016.[13] Audra McDonald received a 2016 Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her role in the broadcast.[14]

McDonald was expected to reprise her role in the West End at the Wyndham's Theatre, from June 15 through September 3, 2016. She was to take a 3-month break from her role on Broadway in Shuffle Along, or, the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.[15] However, in a change announced on May 10, 2016, Lady Day was postponed because McDonald and her husband Will Swenson are expecting a baby. She said, in part: "Of course, I’m disappointed I have to postpone my West End debut in Lady Day, but I look forward to rescheduling as soon as possible.”[16] [17] The play was rescheduled, with McDonald making her West End debut at Wyndham’s Theatre from June 27, 2017 through September 9, 2017.[18]

Plot[edit]

The play takes place in South Philadelphia in March 1959. Billie Holiday is performing in a run-down bar, during one of her last performances before her death in July 1959. She sings, accompanied by Jimmy Powers on the piano, and also tells stories about her life.

Songs[edit]

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill starring Audra McDonald at Wyndham's Theatre.

Critical reception[edit]

In his review of the 2005 Long Wharf production for Variety, Frank Rizzo wrote:

...two-time Tony nominee Ernestine Jackson... presents the singer as a simultaneously strong and desperate figure who finds some solace in her songs, but more in her own personal “moonlight” of drugs, booze and memories. Jackson nicely suggests rather than mimics the famous Holiday deeply lived sound in a show filled with more than a dozen tunes accompanied by an accomplished trio. But this is far from a simple songbook, and the cumulative power comes in the unraveling of an addicted artist and her story at the end of her days.[19]

Critics praised the performance of Audra McDonald in the 2014 Broadway production while not being as enthusiastic about the writing.[20] In his review for The New York Times, Charles Isherwood said,

it's worth putting up with the show's tackier (and duller) aspects for the pleasure of hearing Ms. McDonald breathe aching life into some of Holiday's greatest songs. She has tamped down the lush bloom of her voice to suggest the withered state of Holiday's instrument during the last years of her career, but the sound remains tangy, expressive and rich.[21]

Marilyn Stasio in Variety called the play's script "unrealistically stuffed with just about every known biographical detail about [Holiday's] unhappy life", but praised McDonald's performance, saying

she captures the plaintive sound, the eccentric phrasing and all the little vocal catches that identify Billie Holiday's unique style. But it's her extraordinary sensitivity as an actor that makes McDonald's interpretation memorable.[22]

Recording[edit]

PS Classics recorded the cast album live during the May 27–31 performances, with the album scheduled for release on July 15, 2014.[23]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Audra McDonald was nominated for the 2017 Screen Actors Guild Award, Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie
  • Audra McDonald was nominated for the 2016 Emmy Award, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.
  • Audra McDonald won the 2014 Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Actress in a Play.[24]
  • The play received two 2014 Outer Critics Circle Awards nominations: Outstanding Revival Of A Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway) and Outstanding Actress In A Musical (Audra McDonald).[25] Audra McDonald won the award.[26]
  • The play received two 2014 Tony Award nominations: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play and Best Sound Design of a Play (Steve Canyon Kennedy).[27] (The Tony Awards Administration Committee had decided that Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is eligible for the category of Best Revival of a Play, and that ruling made McDonald eligible for Best Actress in a Play.[28]) Audra McDonald won for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play and Steve Canyon Kennedy won for Best Sound Design of a Play.[29]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Robertson, Lanie. Script, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, (books.google.com) Samuel French, Inc., 1989, p. 5, ISBN 0573681848
  2. ^ "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at the Vineyard", vineyardtheatre.org, accessed April 27, 2014
  3. ^ "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" samuelfrench.com, accessed April 27, 2014
  4. ^ Gerard, Jeremy. "Lonette McKee Leaves Lady Day Over Health", The New York Times, February 21, 1987
  5. ^ "Listing, 1986", Internet Off-Broadway Database, accessed April 27, 2014
  6. ^ Arkatov, Janice. "Lady Day Without The Glamour", Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1987
  7. ^ Rizzo, Frank. "See Lady Day at Long Wharf", The Courant, October 27, 2005
  8. ^ Isherwood, Charles. Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill", The New York Times, April 13, 2014
  9. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, Starring Audra McDonald, Opens on Broadway April 13" Archived 2014-04-17 at the Wayback Machine., Playbill, April 13, 2014
  10. ^ "Following Record-Breaking Tony Win, Audra McDonald and Lady Day Extend Broadway Run" Archived 2014-06-13 at the Wayback Machine., Playbill, June 11, 2014; Hetrick, Adam. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, Starring Audra McDonald, Extends Broadway Run" Archived 2014-05-30 at the Wayback Machine., Playbill, April 16, 2014; and Hetrick, Adam. "Broadway's Lady Day, With Audra McDonald, Extends for Third Time" Archived 2014-07-09 at the Wayback Machine., Playbill, July 7, 2014
  11. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Audra McDonald's Lady Day Sings Her Last Song on Broadway", Playbill, October 5, 2014
  12. ^ "Quick Facts". Tony Awards (IBM Corp). 
  13. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill Debuts on HBO Tonight", Playbill, March 12, 2016
  14. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Audra McDonald, Viola Davis, Bryan Cranston Among 2016 Emmy Nominees" Playbill, July 14, 2016
  15. ^ Shenton, Mark. "Audra McDonald to Make West End Debut in Lady Day", Playbill, January 15, 2016
  16. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Audra McDonald and Will Swenson Are Expecting a Baby" Playbill, May 10, 2016
  17. ^ Marshall, Charlotte. "Audra McDonald’s 'Lady Day' Postponed" officiallondontheatre.co.uk, May 11, 2016
  18. ^ "Audra McDonald Makes Long-Awaited West End Debut as Lady Day Opens in London" Playbill, June 27, 2017.
  19. ^ Rizzo, Frank. "Review: Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill", Variety, November 6, 2005
  20. ^ "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill Review Summaries" Archived 2014-04-29 at the Wayback Machine., stagegrade.com, accessed April 28, 2014
  21. ^ Isherwood, Charles (April 13, 2014). "Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill". New York Times. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  22. ^ Stasio, Marilyn. "Broadway Review: Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill Starring Audra McDonald". New York Times. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  23. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, Starring Audra McDonald, Will Be Recorded Live" Archived 2014-05-29 at the Wayback Machine., Playbill, May 29, 2014
  24. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Winners of 59th Annual Drama Desk Awards Announced; 'Gentleman's Guide' and 'All the Way' Win Top Prizes" Archived 2014-06-06 at the Wayback Machine., Playbill, June 1, 2014
  25. ^ Gans, Andrew. "64th Annual Outer Critics Circle Awards Nominations Announced; 'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' Leads the Pack" Archived 2014-07-14 at the Wayback Machine., Playbill, April 22, 2014
  26. ^ Gans, Andrew."64th Annual Outer Critics Circle Award Winners Announced; 'Gentleman's Guide' Wins Four Awards" Archived 2014-05-12 at the Wayback Machine., Playbill, May 12, 2014
  27. ^ Gans, Andrew. "68th Annual Tony Awards Nominations Announced; 'Gentleman's Guide' Leads the Pack" Archived 2014-05-30 at the Wayback Machine., Playbill, April 29, 2014
  28. ^ Hetrick, Adam and Gioia, Michael.[ http://www.playbill.com/article/updated-tony-awards-administration-committee-rules-on-hedwig-cabaret-violet-lady-day-bullets-over-broadway-and-more-com-217665 Updated: Tony Awards Administration Committee Rules on Hedwig', Cabaret, Violet, Lady Day, Bullets Over Broadway and More"] Archived 2014-05-13 at the Wayback Machine., Playbill, April 25, 2014
  29. ^ Staff. "Just the Winners, Please: Who Won the 68th Annual Tony Awards" Archived 2014-06-09 at Archive.is, Playbill, June 8, 2014

External links[edit]