Lady Day at the Emerson’s Bar and Grill-The Vicissitudes of Billie Holiday’s Life

Lady Day not only Sings the Blues but Makes us Laugh…and Cry.

A fabulous show, Lady Day at the Emerson’s Bar and Grill, depicting one of the last “performances” of Billie Holiday, the great Jazz singer, opened this past week, at Harlequin Productions in Olympia. Monologues about her difficult childhood, her musical influences: Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith, touring the South with Artie Shaw’s white band, her unfulfilling love life and skirmishes with the law, were interspersed with some of her greatest hits, such as “Somebody’s on my Mind,” “What a Little Moonlight can do,” “When a Woman Loves a Man,” and “Ain’t nobody’s Business” etc.

Superlatives cannot describe the performance by Alexandra J. Henderson, as Billie, as she was an excellent singer, as well as a great comedian with impeccable timing. As an actress she captured the down and out Billie, who could barely stagger on stage, but when Billie sang, she opened her soul. At the matinee I attended, Henderson got a well deserved standing ovation!

Billies’ tales of how she reacted to the disgusting humiliations of touring in the Jim Crow South were told with hilarious humor. However, in reading about her life, the segregation in hotels, where she played, also extended to New York City, where she was once told to take the service elevator, because white customers objected to riding the same elevator with a black person.

She worked with many of the greats, Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Count Basie and had extraordinary success as a recording artist, at a young age, but experienced monetary discrimination, when the recording companies made off with most of the profits. Nevertheless, in her heyday in the 30’s and 40’s she was one of the highest paid female vocalists, and she has gone down in history as extremely innovative.

Accompanying Ms. Henderson, were superb musicians Addison Daniels on the piano, who also played a small part as Billie’s companion and collaborator, Jimmy Powers, Lamar Lofton on double bass, and Maire Wulf on the drums. Costume Design by Darren Mills added a lot; it reminded us of what singers used to wear for performances-evening dresses and gloves, although Billies’ long evening gloves served double duty. Director Jimmy Shields brought the ensemble together and did justice to this sad, funny, enlightening but always entertaining script.

This show runs in repertory; for Seattle folks, it is well worth a drive, especially on a sunny Saturday or Sunday. Harlequin is located in the beautiful historic district of downtown Olympia, with cafés, restaurants, antique stores and a few bookstores, so it is a good day trip. It even has the State Capitol buildings.

It might not be a bad idea to have a Seattle run.

Lady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill Harlequin Productions
. In Repertory Sunday Oct. 31, 2 pm. Wed Nov. 3-7:30 pm. Sat Nov. 6- 2pm, Wed Nov 10 -2pm. Nov 12-7:30pm, Sun Nov. 14 7:30 pm, Tues Nov 16 7:30pm, Fri Nov 19-7:30, Sun Nov 21 -2pm, Pay What You Can Performances, Sun Nov. 14, Tues Sept. 16. Rush Tickets: 30 minutes before the show.



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