Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Wyndham’s Theatre, London
Seen on July 15th, 2017
Reviewed by Jade Prince
Be transported from the hustle and bustle of Leicester Square to Philadelphia’s Emerson’s Bar & Grill. The story follows the dramatic life of Billie Holiday (Audra McDonald) as she ventures back to Philadelphia, a state with much history for Holiday herself.
As well as an incredible stage presence throughout, McDonald is also accompanied by a three piece jazz band (Shelton Becton, Frankie Tontoh and Neville Malcolm) playing the mellow score featuring songs such as God Bless The Child, Crazy He Calls Me, Easy Livin’, Strange Fruit and What A Little Moonlight Can Do.
I was mesmerised from the onset by McDonald’s performance for a number of reasons. I was taken on an emotional rollercoaster. Initially I was concerned as she came staggering through the audience and up the stairs (I went into this show blind and had absolutely no idea what to expect!)It did not take too long before I started feeling empathy for her as you realise she is a tough woman who has had a lot of misfortune in her life but has repeatedly gotten up and continues walking, all be it with her own coping mechanisms. By the end of the show I just wanted to give her a huge hug.
This whole show was fabulous. I am actually struggling to find words. In the programme, Lanie Roberston wrote:
“The image of the world’s greatest jazz singer being so undervalued at the end of her life and career was an image that has always haunted me. Writing Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill was an attempt to rid myself of that.”
Well, I most certainly walked out of that theatre haunted by the stunning performance and story.
It is clear to see that Audra McDonald has a fair bit of experience. I had seen a few of her film and TV appearances however I had never seen her on stage and was very excited to witness this. I am just in complete awe. The ability to maintain that performance standard but be so comfortable with it to interact with the audience up close. A true chameleon of an actress!
The set by Christopher Oram was wonderful. I really felt like I was in a Philadelphia Bar & Grill. I was sat on one of the front tables in the stalls so I am not too sure whether this feeling was consistent throughout the theatre. I also loved the use of the audience on the stage. It just brought everything much closer and so much more intimate. Another great element which made the show feel more intimate was the fact that it was not restricted just to the stage. One of the front tables (my table for the night!) actually had props on and the main entrance and exit was through the side of the stalls to the front of the stage which was used a number of times during the show by McDonald herself and Jimmy Powers (Shelton Becton)
I feel a moment is needed to appreciate a key member of the show…Tilly! Tilly played Pepi (Billie’s Chihuahua) and was far too adorable. A little diva who did not seem the slightest bit fazed over the spotlight but made the whole audience weak when, as if on cue, placed a few kisses on McDonald’s face!
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is certainly one to see. It stands head and shoulders above anything in the West End currently. All the hype is definitely correct!!
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is currently booking until 9th September 2017. Tickets and more information can be found at https://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/tickets/lady-day/