Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill is the second Billie Holliday impersonation offering of the season, and like the previous one off-Broadway (that one called merely Lady Day), it’s been kicking around for years. Originaly produced at the Westside Theatre (by the Vineyard Theatre) it debuted in 1987 starring Lonette McKee. Now it’s back starring Audra McDonald. And while there are those rivited by it—just as there were in its debut outing—it hasn’t, for me, gained anything in interest. Basically, it posits a Billie Holliday nightclub set in which she starts out in full control as a performer, but with the increasing intake of booze—and an interlude offstage during which it’s implied she has also shot up—descends into self-pity and melancholy about her troubled past. Ms. McDonald does a fine job, as far as the job goes, sounding just like Ms. Holliday, but all the songs are of moderate or slower tempo, so you may find yourself getting the sensation of drowning in torch ballads, and the slow slide into total disslution is so inevitable that there’s no dramatic tension, nor is there any particular revelation or light shed. I think the revelation is supposed to be how dark her life really was, but there can be nothing else behind her increasing intoxication, so unless it’s enough for you to revel in Ms. McDonald’s skills as a vocalist and, in this context, I guess, as a tragedian (skills which are more than considerable), LD@EB&G is a show during which it’s very easy to check out long before you physically leave.
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