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Review: Capital City Theatre's LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL at The Overture Jazz's Up Madison

From the moment, you are seated in the intimate Wisconsin Studio at the Overture Center you are transported to Emerson's Bar and Grill. The year,1959. The month, March. Billie Holiday will only live another 4 months, at which time she will die at the young age of 44 from cirrhosis of the liver.

You are about to see Billie's final performance, during which she will get very real with you. Often referring to you as her friends, she shares the intimate details of her life between sets of music. Billie walks you through her many trials and tribulations.

Her life is gritty and dark. A fact she seems to just accept. She notes at one point that the main difference between whites and blacks it that whites hide their black on the inside. And after one story she comments off-handedly, ...but I was raped at 10, so I can handle most anything.

You are not at a play. You are in a jazz club watching an amazing concert complete with a three-piece band. The audience applauds after every number, as they should. We learn about Billie's relationship with her mother, "The Duchess", and how all she wants is a small house and children. She shares with us her loves, her losses, her strengths and weaknesses. It was a beautiful and mesmerizing performance to watch.

Tracy Conyer Lee, does such an amazing job at portraying the talented ailing addict that I became unaware of the entire event being scripted. Every motion, every twitch was so precise that the actor was forgotten until there was only Billie Holliday. Her on stage relationship with her bandmates (Kenney M. Green tickling the ivories, Joey Banks on the drums and John Christensen strumming the standup bass) was as real as any jazz ensemble I have ever seen.

That night, because of this outstanding cast, and amazing script, I fell in love, just a little bit, with Billie Holiday. Don't miss this show, it is so much more than just a play. Bravo Capital City Theatre and BRAVA to the talented Tracy Conyer Lee!!

CAPITAL CITY THEATRE opens 2017 with Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill

SHOWTIMES: Fri, Mar 31 -8:00 pm; Sat, Apr 1 -2:00 & 8:00 pm; Thurs, Apr 6 -8:00 pm; Sat, Apr 8 -2:00 & 8:00 pm.

PLACE: Overture Center - 201 State St, Madison WI

The Wisconsin Studio -cabaret seating; drinks served


An Intimate Jazz Bar in Philadelphia -1959

Jazz vocalist, Billie Holiday, is considered one of the most influential jazz singers of all time. Despite battling years of drug addiction, she had a successful career and was one of the first female African American vocalists to work with a white orchestra. Be a part the audience in a cabaret setting of one of her last performances as she reminisces and performs her signature standards.

Capital City Theatre Artistic Director, Andrew Abrams remarks, "As Capital City Theatre grows into its third season with three full productions, we are thrilled to welcome this electric cast. Tracey Conyer Lee portrays Billie Holiday with pianist/actor Kenney M. Green from the famous Marie's Crisis in New York City by her side. Conyer has earned rave reviews for her embodiment of 'Lady Day,' twice with Green. Broadway director Stephen Nachamie will set the stage for this performance. Billie Holiday is a legend, and she will capture the hearts of Madison audiences."

Billie Holiday Bio

Born in Philadelphia to a teenaged mother and her "likely" father, jazz guitarist Clarence Holiday, Billie Holiday was both a lost child and a star, pushed to the opposite extremes of society. She had dropped out of school by the 5th grade to work in a brothel, was punished with reform school after being sexually assaulted, and then moved to Harlem with her mother where the jazz of the 1920's captured her imagination and her talent. She started singing in Harlem night clubs, and by 18 had recorded with the King of Swing, Benny Goodman and his orchestra. She soon became a recording star in her own right, signing with Brunswick records. She sang with some of the greatest musicians of the time, working with the incomparable Count Basie and clarinetist and band leader, Artie Shaw. In fact, in 1938, Ms. Holiday was the first full-time African American vocalist hired by a white band leader, Shaw, to tour the segregated Southern United States.

History remembers Billie's haunting voice, her jazz and Mafioso marriages, and her sad descent into drug and alcohol addiction, but as "Ravishly" and "Out" magazine have reported, she had numerous trysts with both men and women. Her most famous affair was with the actress, socialite, and liberal activist, Tallulah Bankhead. In 1949, it was rumored that Tallulah used her friendship with J. Edgar Hoover to get Billie released after she was arrested for heroin possession - again. Hoover, the notorious head of the FBI at the time, came to Billie's rescue. There is documented correspondence between Tallulah and J. Edgar, as well as between her and Billie that bring these rumors to life.

Billie Holiday left this planet as a destitute, broken and addicted shell of herself at the age of 44. Yet, she made an unforgettable impression upon the soul of our musical and social heritage. Her legendary voice, musical style and life are captured on stage in this wonderful, intimate cabaret, which honors one of her last appearances.

"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill"

March 31 - April 8, 2017

Overture Center, Wisconsin Studio

Directed by: Stephen Nachamie

Cast: Tracey Conyer Lee, Kenney M. Green

Photo by Michael and Susan Karchmer

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