BWW Review: Chanel Impresses as Billie Holiday in LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL
LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL is a play with music by Lanie Robertson, recounting key 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. The play covers the same legendary Holiday stories that were in Lady Sings the Blues as anecdotal memories related by the singer during her act.
The play takes place in South Philadelphia in March 1959. Billie Holiday is performing in a bar, during one of her last performances before her death in July 1959. She sings, accompanied by a trio, while telling stories about her life. This isn't just a Billie Holiday songbook, but rather the painful unraveling before the audience"s eyes of a woman who is an artist and an addict by taking a heartbreaking look at the end of her days. The show is filled with more than a dozen songs with accompaniment by a skilled trio of musicians.
Chanel does a breath taking job as Billie Holiday in this basically one woman performance. We are presented with a woman in her decline, simultaneously defiant and desperate, finding solace in her music, and her own personal "moonlight" of memory, drugs, and liquor. Chanel finds the vocal signatures of Holiday and uses them to suggest rather than mimic. She captures the sound, phrasing and vocal catches that are at the core of Billie Holiday's unique style. Her sensitivity as an actor is what makes her interpretation such a memorable one.
Michael Rader has done a beautiful job directing this show, bringing the action as much as possible out into the house of the Topher Theatre, increasing the immersive aspect of the production. The show is mesmerizing and beautiful while still being heart breakingly poignant. Allen Robertson has done an astonishing job with the music to recreate rather than duplicate these iconic songs. The combo of Kris Keyz, Lannie Hiboldt, Glenn Schuetz and Harrell Williams, Jr. do a masterful job as Holiday's backup combo. If I have one quibble, it is with Mr. Keyz hair being so completely out of period that every time he came front and center in the piece I was taken out of the moment.
Michelle Ney's set is a stunner which is enhanced by the lighting design of Rachel Atkinson, who uses light as an indicator of Billie's emotional state during her singing. The end effect is gloriously beautiful.
All in all, this is an exceptional look at a major American artist in both her glory and her decline that is deeply moving and enchanting at the same time. My highest recommendation to LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL.
LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL by Lanie Robertson
Running time: Approximately Two Hours including intermission
LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL, produced by Zach Theatre in the Topher Theatre (202 South Lamar Blvd.). April , 2017 - , 2017. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 pm. Saturdays & Sundays at 2:30 PM. Tickets http://tickets.zachtheatre.org/
Photo Credit: Kirk Tuck