Directed by Donald Hicken, Lady Day at Emersons Bar and Grill is being featured at the Baltimore School for the Arts starring a brilliant and thoroughly believable, sultry, sexy Brittani Arlandis Green as Billie Holiday.
Ms. Green was a student of the school graduating in 2007 then continuing on in her career in many professional roles in Chicago. This production opportunity allows her to return to the area to perform for family and friends. The school hopes to have many more such opportunities for returning students in the near future.
Billie Holiday is considered one of the best jazz vocalists of all time. Though she was born in Philadelphia in 1915, she spent much of her childhood in Baltimore, Maryland.
…brilliant and thoroughly believable…
The story takes place in a small Jazz club in the late 1950s in Philadelphia, a city that has not been kind to Billie Holiday. But here, in the small quiet 80 seat theater of Baltimore, seems the perfect venue for this production. The props are almost non-existent with only four actors/musicians in the entire cast, the simplicity of the stage and the lack of extraneous set design, makes way for the humble story to be told, naked jazz at its most vulnerable.
A combination of beautifully sung jazz, in the style and beauty that Billie would have been honored, with life story of a young black female budding star locked against the oppressive bigotry experienced in her life. Her carefree reminiscing of her complicated relationships, her great grandmother, a slave, her loving yet unbending mother, and her first husband that led to her addiction of heroine is as smooth as the ease of her melodies. Fortunately for the show, Ms. Green slinks out some of Holiday’s greatest, including, “God Bless the Child,” “Crazy He Calls Me,” and “Strange Fruit.”
She reveals the history of many of the songs she sings, and with that the audience better understands Lady Day as a brilliant songwriter. Her distrust of the “white man” is spoken with humor, humility and understanding, that this is simply the world in which she lived in.
On stage as her need for heroine increases at one point, the show continues with the band playing a piece without their lead, while Lady Day excuses herself to shoot up enough heroine so she can continue singing. Despite the intentional slurring of words, and the seemingly slow lazy notes, each syllable is very intentional, and her diction absolutely impeccable. Even if you are not familiar with the life and times of Billie Holiday, you should make it a point to see this amazing production.
It is also important to note the talents of Sterling Gray (piano), Delroy Gaither, Jr.(drums), and Elliot Shaull-Thompson (bass).
Running Time: 78 minutes-no intermission.
Advisory: some profanity and adult themes.
Lady Day at Emersons Bar and Grill plays through January 11, 2015 at the Baltimore School for the Arts, 712 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201. For information and tickets, click here.