In the dimly lit ambience of the Belvoir St. Theatre, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill unfolds, offering audiences a mesmerising journey into the tumultuous life of jazz legend Billie Holiday. Set in a small Philadelphia nightclub in 1959, this production is a poignant, intimate evening with the iconic singer as she reflects on her life, career, and struggles. Through storytelling and soulful renditions of her classic songs, the audience gains insight into the highs and lows of Billie’s remarkable life. This heart-wrenching narrative captures the essence of this legendary figure.
Mitchell Butel’s direction in Lady Day is exceptional. He masterfully guides the audience through Billie’s tumultuous life, seamlessly blending the character’s personal anecdotes with her unforgettable music. Butel’s direction ensures that the production maintains an intimate and immersive feel as if the audience were genuinely present at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. His ability to balance the vulnerability and strength of Billie Holiday’s character is a testament to his directorial talent.
Ailsa Paterson’s set and costume design transport the audience to the smoky, dimly lit atmosphere of Emerson’s Bar and Grill. The intimate, vintage nightclub ambience is meticulously recreated, immersing theatregoers in the era and making them feel like they’re experiencing a genuine Billie Holiday performance. The costumes are a visual delight, capturing the glamour and style of the time while also reflecting Billie’s unique fashion sense.
The musical trio supporting Billie Holiday is a highlight of the production. Kym Purling’s piano skills are remarkable, capturing the essence of Billie’s music with grace and finesse. Victor Rounds on double bass and Calvin Welch on drums provide the perfect rhythm and depth to the performance, elevating the musical experience to a whole new level. The trio’s chemistry and skill contribute significantly to the show’s authenticity and emotional impact.
Zahra Newman’s performance as Billie Holiday is nothing less than career-defining. She embodies the essence of Billie with a level of authenticity that is truly remarkable. Newman’s vocals are hauntingly beautiful, capturing Billie’s signature phrasing and emotion. Her portrayal of Billie’s vulnerability and strength is a testament to her exceptional acting skills. Newman’s performance is a powerful and poignant tribute to a legendary artist, and it’s a must-see for any fan of Billie Holiday.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill offers a great production that pays a heartfelt tribute to the iconic Billie Holiday. You will leave deeply moved and thoroughly entertained. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness this captivating journey through the life and music of a true jazz legend.
– The other Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig is an international performer and has established himself as a trusted theatre specialist on the Sydney Arts Scene. While he understands the technical side of theatre, Dan writes for the everyday theatregoer (unlike some of those more prominent publications). When not in the audience, he loves to travel the world trying new gin. Follow him on all the socials @talldancraig
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill runs for 90 mins (no interval) and plays at the Belvoir St Theatre through 15 October 2023. Tickets are available through Belvoir St Theatre.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of Kabuku Public Relations
Image credit: Matt Byrne.