Sunday, April 20, 2014
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill ****
One could argue whether Lanie Robertson's 1986 work is a bioplay with music or a concert with monologues. Whichever it is, let's just be grateful that it has been revived as a vehicle for the multi-Tonied Audra McDonald in a limited-run production at Circle in the Square. Adding another superb performance to her long list, McDonald both vocally and dramatically inhabits the role of troubled jazz singer Billie Holiday near the end of her tragically short life. McDonald's ability to disappear into Lady Day's persona is uncanny. In between songs, she relates many -- perhaps too many -- stories of her difficult life and career. Also onstage are a talented jazz trio (Sheldon Becton, piano; Clayton Craddock, drums; George Farmer, bass). Becton plays her music director and babysitter Jimmy Powers. Her pet chihuahua Pepi (Roxie) makes a memorable appearance too. James Noone's set designs fills most of the playing space with nightclub tables with a bandstand at one end and a bar at the other. Holiday's costume by Esosa is perfection. Lonny Price's direction is effective. The half-hearted use of projections is not. Ultimately, who cares as long as we have 90 glorious minutes of Lady Day as channeled by McDonald.