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Welcome back, EPAC!


It is been quite a while since the Ephrata Performing Arts Center has produced a show. If you don't count their recent odd Christmas offering, the last thing to grace the Sharadin Bigler stage was their 2019 production of My Fair Lady. It is therefore, promising and exciting that they are now able to present the Billie Holiday themed show, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.

Due to Covid restrictions, Lady Day is presented as a recorded performance to watch at home. I have mixed feelings about this. I am torn as to whether these types of shows are even truly "theater", considering they are pre-recorded, and polished of even the most minor flaw associated with the conventions of a live performance. Furthermore, they also deprive the audience of the opportunity to demonstrate immediate approval and appreciation of the theatrical experience. I remember applauding at the conclusion of the Avengers movie, and the people sitting next to me assumed I escaped from a mental institution. No doubt they wanted to put a hand on my shoulder and reassure me, "You know Robert Downey Jr. can't hear you, right?"

On the other hand, desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps no industry has been more universally devastated by the pandemic than the arts. I sense society's deep hunger for entertainment, amusement, and distraction. We all need some enjoyment and release in these seemingly endless stressful times. Good stories, whether or stage, screen, computer monitor, or phone, can readily serve this purpose.

The production quality of this show is stellar. Lighting, sound, and camera angles are exceedingly professional and solidify EPAC's reputation for first rate production values. Filmed in 1080p high-definition, the viewer is able to appreciate a similar level of nuance and detail as a live show.

Yolanda London Dwyer stars as Billie Holiday in what is essentially, a one woman show, that replicates one of Holliday's concerts in the twilight of her career. Dwyer pulls off both the unique look and sound of Holiday with style. Her dozen or so songs are performed with great confidence and skill. As the show progresses, the consequences of the singer's ongoing substance abuse start to creep in. Dwyer does a convincing job of conveying this, earning the audience's concern and sympathy.

Michael Powers serves as Jimmy Powers, Holiday's piano player and the only referenced character (and actor) among her three-person band. The accompaniment in the show was solid, never overshadowing the singing, but serving, instead, as a beautiful and fitting complement.

Direction by Ed Fernandez was effective, considering the limitations of the medium. This show is essentially a filmed concert, and therefore lacks natural opportunities for much action, or even movement. This is not a criticism of direction per se, but rather "the nature of the beast". I am sure a live performance of the show would greatly improve audience engagement. In fact, I am confident that their next filmed production, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, will be a much better fit in this medium.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is a high quality show with superb production values. It will especially appeal to jazz fans and those intrigued by flawed but gifted celebrities. Productions runs now through March 14th. Tickets and more information can be found on the theater website. Welcome back, EPAC!

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From This Author Rich Mehrenberg