Previewed 17 June 2017, Opened 27 June 2017, Closed 9 September 2017 at the Wyndham's Theatre
Lanie Robertson's musical play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill in London starring Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday and directed by Lonnie Price.
Set in a small bar in Philadelphia late one night in 1959, where, a few months before her death, Billie Holiday is performing a concert. Audra McDonald reprises her Tony Award-winning performance as 'Billie Holiday' from Lonnie Price's acclaimed Broadway staging which played an extended six month season at the Circle in the Square Theatre in 2014.
The cast features Audra McDonald as 'Billie Holiday' with Shelton Becton as 'Jimmy Powers' on piano, Neville Malcolm on bass and Frankie Tontoh on drums. Directed by Lonny Price with sets by Christopher Oram, lighting by Mark Henderson and sound by Paul Groothuis.
PLEASE NOTE: This production contains strong language and themes of an adult nature.
When this production opened here at the Wyndham's Theatre in June 2017, Neil Norman in the Daily Express said that "from the moment Billie Holiday starts singing, chills run down your spine. Audra McDonald does not so much impersonate Holiday as act as a medium for her spirit... She embodies Holiday to the life. It may not be a great play but it is an astonishing performance." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard commented that "Audra McDonald gives a powerhouse performance as an ailing but still proud Billie Holiday. Lanie Robertson's 'musical play', virtually a one-woman show, is more than 30 years old now, but the timeless magnetism of Billie Holiday is imagined afresh by McDonald". Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph wrote that "whenever Audra McDonald, eyes sealing in reverie, banishing a world of cares, croons: it's utterly intoxicating." Paul Taylor in the i Newspaper praised how "Audra McDonald is absolutely astonishing... full of sensitive musicianship, this is a tribute paid by one great artist to another." Ann Treneman in the Times described how "Lonny Price directs impeccably, creating tension from the very beginning, as we watch and listen to Holiday's rambles and stunning songs," adding that Audra McDonald's "voice is spookily brilliantly Billie... this is the closest any of us will get. It's the real deal, this one. Get a ticket." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times noted that "one worry about Lanie Robertson's play is that, for all its sympathy and evident horror at the racism, exploitation and abuse that Billie Holiday suffered, there is something voyeuristic about it... But Lonny Price's staging keeps an uneasy tension throughout. And Audra McDonald is just mesmerising. Even stumbling and slurring, she has a witty rapport with the audience that suggests Holiday's charisma and a core of resilience." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail hailed how "Audra McDonald sounds amazingly like Billie Holiday when she sings. It is hard to praise highly enough her brilliant act of re-creation. But a little stage drunkenness goes a long way, and 95 minutes of it is more than sufficient. The exposition of Billieís life becomes a bit of a bore, which really should not be the case... The gifted Audra McDonald deserves better. So, for that matter, does Billie Holiday." Michael Billington in the Guardian explained that, "while Audra McDonald is a supreme artist who captures the style and spirit of Billie Holiday, there is something morbid about the show's fascination with the singerís decline and fall."
This production was originally scheduled to play here last year (with previews from 25 June 2016, opening 5 July 2016 and closing 3 September 2016) but was postponed when the show's star Audra McDonald announced that she and her husband, actor Will Swenson, where expecting a baby. On 19 October 2016, they became parents to a girl, Sally James McDonald-Swenson. Audra McDonald is now keen to make her West End stage acting debut in this production in 2017.
"It is a passionate and pertinent story in which the blend of heartfelt revelation, professional anecdote and social comment is as well-judged as the choice of songs, from the joyous God Bless The Child - a paean to her mother - to the anguished Strange Fruit - about an Indiana lynching. Audra McDonald is the beating heart of the production and does not so much portray or impersonate Holliday as channel her spirit. She captures every aspect of the volatile Holliday... Most remarkable of all is her delivery of the songs. McDonald is air to Holliday's earth, yet she effortlessly abandons her trademark purity and precision in favour of Holliday's sultry, slurred tones. This is the most daring and accomplished performance of the year so far." The Sunday Express
"Lanie Robertson's 1986 play is inspired by stories of Billie Holiday working small clubs towards the end of her life, when singing was the only thing that kept her straight, just about. Played by the Broadway darling Audra McDonald, Holiday lobs aching melodies into an unstoppable monologue, ignoring her pianist's frown as she rambles through grievances and regrets. Inevitably, a staid West End audience is more Rotary Club than Cotton Club ó an awkwardness that sharpens the sense we're gawping at an icon in free fall. Vocally, it's astonishing: McDonald gets the slur and mischievous yelp in Holiday's voice. By the end of the 90-minute show, Holiday seems too juiced to function, but she can still sing: cradling the sorrow in God Bless the Child, clawing at the savage heart of Strange Fruit." The Sunday Times
"Director Lonny Priceís staging of Lanie Robertsonís sorry story of one of Billie Holidayís last performances, in Philadelphia in 1959, turns the theatre into Emersonís smoky jazz club, where the audience sip drinks around tables. It works a treat. But the real treat is the awesome, astonishing, sensational Audra McDonald, who breathes such heart and soul, warmth and humour into her singing that she brings the legendary, doomed artist to haunting life with an almost eerie precision, finding the depths of her agony and touching the heights of her ecstasy... Of course it's a misery memoir. But McDonald makes it both a dedication and a celebration. Unmissable." The Mail on Sunday
Billie Holiday Lady Day in London at the Wyndham's Theatre previewed from 17 June 2017, opened on 27 June 2017 and closed on 9 September 2017.