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Dee Dee Bridgewater Stars as Billie Holiday in "Lady Day" at the Little Shubert Theatre
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Dee Dee Bridgewater Stars as Billie Holiday in "Lady Day" at the Little Shubert Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights: Jazz and Cabaret Corner

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Misty Road Productions LLC.
Thomas Gentile
Presents:

Dee Dee Bridgewater
As
Billie Holiday
(Billie Holiday Bio)

In
Lady Day
(Lady Day Website)

Written and Directed by Stephen Stahl

Featuring:
David Ayers (Robert), Rafael Pouriet (Rafael)
Bill Jolly (Sunny, Pianist)
James Cammack (Deon, Bassist)
Jerome Jennings (Kelavon, Drummer)
Neil Johnson (Elroy, Saxophonist)

At the
Little Shubert Theatre
422 West 42nd Street
A Shubert Organization Theatre
212.239.6200

Set Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Patricia A. Hibbert
Lighting Design: Ryan O’Gara
Sound Design: Jason Crystal
Video/Projection Design: DIVE
Props Supervisor: Buist Bickley
Technical Supervisor: Jay Janicki
Production Stage Manager: Brian Meister
Casting: Pat McCorkle, McCorkle Casting, Ltd.
Advertising: Hofstetter & Partners/Agency 212
Press Representative: Peter Cromarty & Company
Marketing: Leanne Schanzer Promotions Inc.
General Manager: NIKO Companies
Music Director: Bill Jolly
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Asst. Director: Karen Grossman


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 6, 2013 Matinee


Lady Day, an homage to Billie Holiday, who would have been so young at the timing of Stephen Stahl’s two act, re-enacted London rehearsal and concert (she died at the age of 44), is magnificently performed, as a one-woman show with backup, by Dee Dee Bridgewater. Ms. Bridgewater has been favorably reviewed on these pages in her jazz concert performances, and it was good to spend a couple of hours absorbing her lush, velvety interpretation of Holiday’s repertoire, like “A Foggy Day in London Town”, “All of Me”. “Them There Eyes”, and, especially, “Violets for Your Furs”. Act I is set in a rehearsal studio, with Holiday’s Manager, Robert (David Ayers), her Asst. Stage Manager, Rafael (Rafael Poueriet), and her Band: Pianist, Sunny (Bill Jolly), Bassist, Deon (James Cammack), Drummer, Kelavon (Jerome Jennings), and Saxophonist, Elroy (Neil Johnson). It should be noted, right up front, that these four musicians are among the finest I’ve heard anywhere. The scene is a blistery, rainy afternoon in 1954, and Holiday has a show that evening, as part of her tour of Europe, an effort to regain her cabaret license in America, after some drug-related run-ins with police. Alcohol has also fed Holiday’s soul for decades, as we already know, but we learn more through Bridgewater’s angst-filled anecdotes and audience asides. Ms. Bridgewater moves in and out of reality and memory, with the help of spotlights, when the songs stop and time freezes.

Anecdotes sometimes involve writhing and moaning, as in memories of a childhood rape, a visit to a prostitution home for the music, a conversation with Billie’s mother, an early altercation with police. Reality conversations involve Robert begging Holiday not to drink, not to be late (as she was for this final rehearsal), not to lose focus. They also involve Holiday’s relationship with her band and her flirtations with Rafael. She needs it all, and she wants it all, in spite of her treacherous fragility, only hours before her curtain. But, reality dazzles with luster, when Ms. Bridgewater sings, and, in Act I, her “Foggy Day…”, followed by “Swing, Brother, Swing”, with this great band, brings down the house. In contrast, “Strange Fruit”, about the 50’s horrors in the South, brought a silent hush to the theater, as the visual image evoked from the lyrics was so very strong. Act II was much more flamboyant, as it was now show time. Holiday was attired in a glistening strapless gown with a long, white mink stole. Her white gardenias were placed plentifully on her hair. In this Act, Ms. Bridgewater addressed us as her London audience and begged our forgiveness for obvious inebriation and conspicuous unsteadiness. But, also in Act II, the band was brilliantly musical, performing solo riffs all around. Ms. Bridgewater sang atop the piano and all about the stage with her microphone. “When You’re Smiling” and “I’m Pulling Through” took on new meaning. There were yet more audience asides and memory anecdotes, but the music wrapped it all with poignancy.

Ms. Bridgewater’s voice may be deeper and more mature than Holiday’s, but she had the affect and attitude nailed, as well as vocal glitches, now and then, evocative of Holiday’s state of health and mind. The vocals were gorgeous, and the sound design worked perfectly. Each band member was portrayed with genuine dramatization, a feat for trained musicians. When Holiday tells the band how much she misses Lester Young, her original sax player, Neil Johnson, as Elroy, shows his stuff, playing riffs to prove his worth. The other musicians shake their heads, when Holiday fumbles, and each has some dialogue, mostly in Act I. David Ayers, as the Manager, is quietly supportive and nurturing, a pro. Beowulf Boritt has created a remarkable likeness to a rehearsal studio, with a giant doorway that holds back the rain. Patricia A. Hibbert designed a fabulous gown and stole for Holiday’s Act II. Ryan O’Gara keeps the spotlights moving through reality and memory, and Jason Crystal’s sound keeps the dialogue and music resonant and audible. Projections by DIVE enhance the narrative, as well as “Violets…”, as purple petals fall like snow. Stephen Stahl directs his own show for maximum drama and deepness of melodies. Kudos to Dee Dee Bridgewater, and kudos to Billie Holiday.



Dee Dee Bridgewater as Billie Holiday
in "Lady Day"
Courtesy of Carol Rosegg



For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net