BWW Review: Sybil D. Jatta Authentically Brings BILLIE HOLIDAY: FRONT AND CENTER
Such is the combination of skills on display by Sybil D. Jatta as Billie Holiday: FRONT AND CENTER now onstage at the WACO Theatre Center in NoHo through Sunday, August 18, directed with heart and soul by B'Anca. To effectively represent such a well-known icon, Jatta offers true insight into Holiday's turbulent life, abusive relationships, and the racism she endured recording first with Benny Goodman and then as the first Black female vocalist to front a white band with Artie Shaw. Holiday also performed with Count Basie and Duke Ellington, quite a distinction for a young black girl born in poverty in 1915 Philadelphia who endured childhood sexual assault, arrests and jail time, and coped with life's disappointments through her lifelong abuse of alcohol and drugs. Holiday's life is no easy task to represent honestly without breaking down in tears due to so many heartbreaking tales.
Writer-performer Sybil D. Jatta adds real emotional depth to the story as she perfectly phrases a selection of songs that comprise an array of Holiday's greatest hits, among them God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit, What a Little Moonlight Can Do, All of Me, Don't Explain, My Man, Good Morning Heartache, many more. To be in Jatta's presence is as close to being dazzled by the real Jazz icon herself, from a poor young girl to a glamorous star!
Jatta is no stranger to portraying the Holiday, having previously appeared as the singer in the musical world tour of "Sang Sista Sang." Taking on not only the Jazz icon from her early childhood forward, Jatta also portrays many others in Holiday's life through her short 42 years on this planet, including her mother, the cop who keeps arresting her, the madam for whom she worked, as well as many others who used and abused her, finally ending the play as the near-death singer marries saxophonist Lester Young, who named her Lady Day and treated as she should have been treated her entire life.
Speaking of musicians, accompanying Jetta during her tour-de-force performance is a talented jazz quartet led by Music Director Casey McCoy (who has been the Musical Director for the show since its inception) on piano, Michael Saucier on Upright Bass, Louis Van Taylor on Saxophone and Flute, and drummer Lance Lee. These four talented musicians kept the spirit of jazz in the house during Jatta's several costume changes to reflect the different stages of Holiday's life, with each sparkly ensemble more beautiful than the last.
Billie Holiday: FRONT AND CENTER is presented by Champion Club Productions at the WACO Theater Center, 5144 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601 on Fri/Sat at 8pm, Sun at 3pm through August 18. General admission tickets are $52; Groups of four or more $45; Students with I.D. (high school/college) $40; Seniors (65+) $30. Tickets are available at the door or in advance at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/billie-holiday-front-and-center-tickets-63407808462
Photo credit: Scott Morgan Photography