Thursday, June 5, 2014

Quiet Please - There's a Lady on Stage

If you attend many cabaret shows, you know you are in for some songs with stories peppered throughout all cleverly rehearsed with a casual feeling to it. In a sense, that's what those stepping into the Circle in the Square Theatre are in for with the three piece band playing and smoke setting the mood. Only Billie Holiday didn't stick to a rehearsed script, instead singing songs as she would feel them and sharing a few more stories than those around her wanted her to share. Most of the time, while strung out and not always clear of what she was saying or singing.

Essentially, Lonnie Price has wonderfully directed a one woman show that is an intimate concert including "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child" - but is oh so much more. Lanie Robertson has written a peek into a world many of us never experienced with the talented and broken Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill.

That Audra McDonald can maintain the 'character' for an entire evening is a credit to the brilliance that is Ms. McDonald. She deserves every single accolade she has received for this role. The moment she entered the room, she is already walking crooked and 1/2 baked. And yet she still has so much further to go and more to share. She never mimics Ms. Holiday-no - she inhabits her. Channels her. At times I felt I had been transported and was watching the real person there in the dark room (with wonderful lighting effects and images presented behind a scrim). Not only does an actress have to carry an entire show, but she sings, smokes, drinks, curses,  takes us on a roller coaster in one evening as her moods can shift on a dime. At times, I was uncomfortable and exhausted for her. Brilliant is not an adequate word to describe what we are witnessing on that stage. I've always known she is an incredible performer. She can sell a song like very few singers - always acting her way through it. But here, she is an actress - and the Tony committee was right in putting her in the play category and not musical. Ms. McDonald is acting in such a way that we never see her acting - even as close as many people are to her. She interacts with audience members, works with a dog, and always seems as if she is living in every single moment - never ACTING.

I was so blown away and so glad that I saw this limited production. There is a reason that if she can not go on, the show is cancelled. She is the show. There are those that say they saw Ethel Merman on stage or Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl…I am so happy to know I'll be able to say that I witnessed Audra McDonald portray Billie Holiday. Thank you for the gift of your sheer talent. New York is lucky to be living in the period where Audra McDonald can grace a stage now and again.

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