Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Also see Rebecca's recent review of Eternal Life Part 1
The play takes place in 1959, just a few months before legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday's death, during one of her final performances in a small bar in Philadelphia. Through a series of monologues and songs, Holiday reflects on her troubled life and career, including her struggles with addiction, racism and abuse. The show features some of Holiday's most iconic songs, including "God Bless the Child," "Strange Fruit," and "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," and offers a powerful and intimate portrayal of one of the greatest voices in American music.
Laurin Talese is a brilliant songstress and her performance as Billie Holiday is absolutely mesmerizing. Her slow and heartbreaking descent into drug induced stupor is so convincing it can be difficult to watch. Talese has great chemistry with the immensely talented Will Brock, doing double duty as Billie Holiday's pianist Jimmy Powers and the production's music director. Emotions run high when Talese speaks to the audience and argues with Brock, but I wanted more intensity and feeling during the songs themselves.
Philadelphia Theatre Company's creative team has truly metamorphosed the Suzanne Roberts Theatre for this production. Scenic and lighting designer Thom Weaver has gone above and beyond to turn the theater into an intimate jazz club. I don't want to give anything away, but there is a breathtaking moment when the audience can see exactly how the dramatic change was accomplished. Sound is everything in a piece like this one and Robert Kaplowitz's sound design is impeccable. Tiffany Bacon's costume design, in particular the dress she had created for Talese, is pitch perfect.
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill runs through April 30, 2023, at Philadelphia Theatre Company, Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please call 215-985-0420 or visit philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.