LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR & GRILL Comes to Garry Marshall Theatre
Garry Marshall Theatre presents the Broadway play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill by Lanie Robertson for 15 performances May 15 to June 2, 2019 (press opening is Friday, May 17). The time is 1959, a seedy bar in Philadelphia. The audience is about to witness one of Billie Holiday's last performances, given four months before her death. More than a dozen musical numbers - including "What a Moonlight Can Do," "Crazy He Calls Me," "Easy Living," "Strange Fruit," "Taint Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do," and "God Bless the Child" -- are interlaced with salty, often humorous, reminiscences to project a riveting portrait of the lady and her music.
Casting and creative team for Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill will be announced shortly. Lady Day replaces the previously announced Pang Spa. For tickets and information, please visit www.garrymarshalltheatre.org or call 818-955-8101.
Holiday loathes Philadelphia., "Philadelphia was a very loaded place for Billie," said playwright Lanie Robertson. "It was there that she was arrested on a drug charge and was sent to prison, forced to go cold turkey. As she says in the play, 'Philly's always been the rat's ass for me. When I die, I don't care if I go to heaven or hell long's it ain't in Philly.' As a result Holiday was stripped of her New York cabaret card, limiting her ability to perform in NYC as she approached the end of her life.
Patrick Pacheco said in Blouinartinfo, "Lanie Robertson wrote the play in the early 1980s in an effort to understand the twists and turns the singer's path had taken. Though Holiday is high as a kite when she first appears and swills from a tumbler of vodka throughout the play, the singer's love of music and connection to her audience remains undiminished."
Robertson continues, "In my imagination, she enters, doesn't know where she is, sees the microphone, and knows she's supposed to sing. Once she starts singing, the music is like an injection of heroin. By the time she finishes, she knows where she is and what she has to do." Late in life, Holiday could still bring the house to silence. The New York Times said, "The quiet usually held, as one of the great singers of the last century turned jazz songs and standards into searching, and searing, portraits of life and love gone wrong that cast a shimmering spell."
"Lanie Robertson's play is a spare, shrewdly constructed piece that lets the audience in on more of Holiday's life than only her reminiscences," wrote J.D.R. Bruckner also in the Times. "Holiday is no clichéd tragic figure. She is ravaged by the debilitations of heroin addiction, but she is also ornery, complicated, difficult and even a little devious in the excuses she makes for her addiction ... [but] by the end of her evening of song at Emerson's, one is filled with an unexpected joy."
During its first New York engagement, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best off-Broadway Book (1986); later Audra McDonald starred in a 2014 Broadway revival, winning her sixth, record breaking, Tony Award for Best Actress.
D.C. Metro said, "No one sinks her hook in you like Billie Holiday. You listen to her, following her voice as it quavers like a flickering torch and, when you recover, you're bound to her forever. She's the fellow alcoholic who whispered something to you both personal and profound one rough night, the lover who helplessly held you after you tried to tell them it was over."
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill premiered at the Alliance Theatre, in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 16, 1986, with direction by Woodie King, Jr. and with Rennie Upchurch as Billie Holiday, followed by its New York production, off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre on June 5, 1986, directed by Andre Ernotte and starring Lonette McKee as Holiday. The production transferred to The Westside Theatre on September 7, eventually closing on May 17, 1987. S. Epatha Merkerson replaced McKee in the role. Later, Ernotte directed Merkerson at the Hollywood Playhouse. Other productions included at Long Wharf Theatre with Ernestine Jackson as Holiday (2005); at Los Angeles Fountain Theatre with Peggy Ann Blow (2003); and the 2014 Broadway revival, starring Audra McDonald, and directed by Lonny Price.
Lanie Robertson writes about iconic artists and the societal issues they faced in Nasty Little Secrets, Alfred Stiegletz Loves O'Keeffe, and Woman Before a Glass. His plays have been produced internationally and at The Alley Theatre, Arena Stage, Delaware Theatre, Edinburgh Festival, Festival d'Avignon, George Street Playhouse, Kennedy Center, Old Globe, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Playwrights Horizons, Primary Stages, Theatre de la Huchette, Theatre Petite Montparnasse, Theatre Silvia Montforte, Vineyard Theatre, Virginia Stage, Walnut Street Theatre, Westside Arts, and Williamstown Theatre Festival. Later plays include Nobody Lonesome for Me and The Gardener. Recently he completed his first novel, Monkey to the Solution. He's a member of the Dramatists Guild, Writers Guild, East, and the Societe des Auteres et Compositeurs Dramatiques.