BWW Blog: To the Mothership - Day Three - LADY DAY and BUYER & CELLAR
Day three was yet another roller coaster of emotions as we went from the tragic yet beautiful to the hilarious. I guess I planned this schedule pretty well. Let's start with the beyond words amazing Audra and then we'll move on from there.
LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR & GRILL
If you think you're in for one of Broadway's most incredible talents to simply be singing a bunch of Billie Holiday tunes then you could not be more wrong. This is not a concert, it's a tragedy. A beautifully packaged tragedy with a bunch of Billie Holiday tunes as its foundation but a tragedy none the less as we watch the final decent of one of America's greatest jazz legends. It's March of 1959 and very late in the evening and we're about to witness one of the very last performances of Billie Holiday (Audra McDonald) just four months before she would pass away. She walks up to the stage at Emerson's in south Philadelphia, obviously high, and what follows is Lady Day's own personal meandering and unsteady walk down memory lane all the while her music director, Jimmy Powers (Shelton Becton), attempts to keep her on track and on stage long enough for her to sing her contractually obligated numbers.
It's a raw nerve of a play by Lanie Robertson that is, tragically, based on actual events. And if the play weren't good enough, add into that the sheer talent of Audra McDonald and what you have is an evening of theater that will lift you up one minute and tear your heart out the next. We all know McDonald's voice and how beautiful it is so when she steps up on stage and opens her mouth in this you wonder where these sounds are coming from as it's eerily not the usual Audra. You soon learn that she's basically channeling Holiday as the voice and mannerisms are spot on. But it goes beyond a simple impression as she displays such immense vulnerability and honesty in the role. And it's never a jab at Holiday or the mocking of a legend but a tribute, albeit a sobering one as we watch an icon crumble under the weight of years of booze, drugs and pain. This is a performance for the ages. And yes, it's historically exciting that McDonald could be the first woman to win a Tony in all four acting categories (Lead and Featured in a Play and Musical as Lady Day is in the play category) and she could tie Julie Harris with six wins, but after seeing this performance I have no doubt in my mind that she deserves it. So I'm putting my money on her.
For more information on the show, visit them at www.ladydayonbroadway.com.
BUYER & CELLAR
After that I'm so glad I had a riotous comedy to move on to. So I wended my way down to the West Village, had a slice of Bleeker Street Pizza, and entered the somewhat fictional and hilarious world of "Buyer & Cellar". This incredible machination from Jonathan Tolins stems from the all too real book on Barbra Streisand's love for design which includes a section on how she has a mall in the basement of her Malibu home filled with her possessions. There's where the truth of the piece ends (as we are all too clearly made aware of at the top of the show for legal reasons I'm sure). What follows is Tolins' hysterical imagining of what if Streisand actually hired someone to work in the mall as its proprietor in service to its one and only customer, her. Enter Alex More (Christopher J. Hanke), a struggling actor who's just been fired from the Magic Kingdom for an inappropriate comment to an unruly child and has now found himself in a fantastical world that most gay men would give their left arm to peek inside.
Hanke is adorable, engaging, and sidesplitting complete with delicious facial expressions and tons of heart. He takes on the piece with such a genuine love for the play and its subject that his exuberance completely draws you in. And considering the entire play is just him, it's a good thing. But he's more than up to the challenge and carries the evening with such grace that I could have watched for another 90 minutes. I can see why the play has been such a hit and Hanke is a wonderful addition to the run.
For more information on this one, catch them at www.buyerandcellar.com.
So that's it for a whirlwind Sunday. With only a few more shows to go, I'll see you all tomorrow with a murderous tale from the popular girls.