Review: PLAYHOUSE ON PARK'S 14TH SEASON OPENS TO STANDING OVATION WITH LADY DAY at Playhouse On Park

The production runs from September 28th through October 16th

By: Oct. 04, 2022
Review: PLAYHOUSE ON PARK'S 14TH SEASON OPENS TO STANDING OVATION WITH LADY DAY at Playhouse On Park

Have you ever wished that you could go back in time and see your favorite musician in concert? Well, now is your chance at Playhouse on Park. Their 14th season opening was nothing short of spectacular.

Entering the theater, we are transported to a seedy bar in Philadelphia, March 1959. We've become Billie Holiday's audience, witnessing one of her final performances before her untimely passing. She bears her soul to us with moving stories and iconic songs like Moonlight, God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit, and many more. Accompanied on piano by her talented beau, Jimmy Powers, we fall in love with the singer and legend called Lady Day.

The set is delightfully immersive: A brick wall adorned with band posters, a chalkboard sign announcing the weekend's music lineup, and a men's room with an out-of-order sign lopsidedly draped around the doorknob. Four sweetheart tables are set in front of the small stage: a rare opportunity for audience members to get even closer and have a totally unique experience. (If you're the type who worries about audience participation, don't fret: You'll just have the best seat in the house with no strings attached.)

The show opens with Jimmy (played by Music Director Nygel D. Robinson), performing an upbeat, jazzy overture. He beckons Billie Holiday (played by Danielle Herbert) to the stage, who croons beautifully and instantly wins over the crowd. She is met with hearty applause that only gains enthusiasm throughout the evening. Between melodies, Lady Day tells jokes and shares her life's story. She proudly recounts her defiance of the racism she faced while touring in the South. As the night goes on, her light tales grow darker and darker. She's a survivor of many live-altering traumas, barely coping with a drug and alcohol addiction. So much has been taken away from her, yet she still has so much joy and love to give.

Broadway veteran, Director Stephanie Pope Lofgren writes, "I wanted to bring light to all of the darkness that surrounded Billie Holiday's life. ... I hope the audience comes away with a deeper understanding of who she was - as a person; as a woman; as a black woman in a particular time and place in our history - and celebrate her ability to transform her pain into a voice, a sound, a style, that both informs and transcends that pain into music that resonates with all of us, continues to stand the test of time, and will live forever."

I wholeheartedly believe that Stephanie Pope Lofgren achieved her goal magnificently. This piece resounded with me and is absolutely unforgettable. Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill is beautifully balanced, letting the audience feel Billie Holiday's true joy and sorrow. It made my heart sing and break. I highly recommend it.

Danielle Herbert is a tour-de-force as Billie Holiday. Her effervescence and joy are palpable.

Herbert is a vivacious, exquisite performer who delivered an absolutely breathtaking performance. She perfected Billie Holiday's vocal inflections and style, all while embodying the character with brilliant nuance and depth. A brilliant artist, Herbert is a star you must see!

Nygel D. Robinson is warm and charming, lending his many talents to portray Jimmy Powers and lead as Music Director extraordinaire. It was a pleasure to hear not only his piano playing, but his wonderful, velvety voice. Robinson's performance is perfection.

Midway through our performance, the stage lights suddenly flashed and and a loud bang brought us into total darkness. A circuit breaker had unexpectedly blown, but you could have fooled us. Herbert and Robinson improvised so well that I was thoroughly convinced it was a part of the show. When my husband turned on his phone as a flashlight, I even chastised him for wrecking the moment! The mishap was quickly remedied, impressively handled, and endeared us to the performers even more.

The cast and creative team (below) are clearly a winner, as the show received a well-deserved and enthusiastic standing ovation.

Creative Team

Writer: Lanie Robertson

Director: Stephanie Pope Lofgren

Music Director: Nygel D. Robinson

Set Design: Johann Fitzpatrick

Costume Design: Soule Golden

Sound Design: Ethan Gueldenzopf

Stage Manager: Dana Rudnansky

If you haven't returned to the theater yet, let this be the show that brings you back. It would be impossible to recreate this piece on a screen or large theater. Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill is a once-in-a-lifetime, immersive experience you don't want to miss.

Review: PLAYHOUSE ON PARK'S 14TH SEASON OPENS TO STANDING OVATION WITH LADY DAY at Playhouse On Park Review: PLAYHOUSE ON PARK'S 14TH SEASON OPENS TO STANDING OVATION WITH LADY DAY at Playhouse On Park Review: PLAYHOUSE ON PARK'S 14TH SEASON OPENS TO STANDING OVATION WITH LADY DAY at Playhouse On Park

Photo credit: Meredith Longo



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