Regional Reviews: Seattle
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill
Also see David's recent review of Nickel and Dimed
The waning days of Lady Day, tormented jazz singer Billie Holiday, is the subject of Lanie Robertson's play with music, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. Though far heftier fare than might be expected by audiences who attend the more jovial sort of cabaret theatre usually on the bill of fare at the Cabaret at Seattle's Crepe de Paris, those who go along on the ride as soulful actress/singer Charlie Parker (right) channels Holiday will be glad they did.
Holiday's signature songs (including "God Bless The Child", "Strange Fruit" and "What A Little Moonlight Can Do") are all included, but what begins as a fairly lighthearted return by Billie to one of her old haunts, quickly segues into Billie herself being haunted by memories of her past triumphs and tragedies. She begins to mistake her pianist Jimmy Powers for her ex-husband (who hooked the star on drugs) and goes offstage at one point for a fix. Billie makes it through, barely, but it is clear to see that this performance at Emerson's was probably one of the last before her untimely demise, in 1959 at age 44.
David Bennett's sensitive and focused direction helps actress Parker give the most complex and successfully realized performance I have seen from her in numerous Seattle appearances. The actress, well accompanied by gifted veteran pianist Paul Richardson as Jimmy Powers, certainly has a voice stronger than Holiday possibly ever did, and certainly better than she would have sounded in the nadir of her performing life. But Parker shows us Holiday giving a roller-coaster ride of a performance, and is more than a little touching at many points. Musical director Jeff Caldwell undoubtedly aided Parker in finding the nuances and stylistic traits of Holiday, while not taking away from her own considerable talent.
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill ends on an emotional low note for Billie Holiday, but the production by TMCWorks never hits a clinker, and between Holiday fans and Parker's own devotees, could well be a sleeper hit of the current Seattle theatre season.
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill plays through August 31 at the Crepe de Paris, 1333 5th Avenue in Rainer Square, downtown Seattle. Performances For reservations, dinner and show, or show only, call (206) 623-4111.- David-Edward Hughes