Audra McDonald won a great many awards in New York for her solo performance in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill – a tribute to the singer Billie Holiday – and I have no doubt that her reception in London will match New York’s.
Lanie Robertson’s script is billed as a musical play. It is, in fact, a cabaret performance with anecdotes and commentary on Holiday’s life. To create the cabaret atmosphere, the seats in the front six rows of the stalls have been removed and replaced with tables and chairs. The audience also sits at tables on the stage.
Lady Day was the nickname Holiday’s lover gave her. Emerson’s Bar was a seedy joint in Philadelphia. It was to be one of her last dates in 1959; three months later she was dead.
The 90-minute cabaret is truly amazing. As Holiday sings, so she becomes less and less steady and more and more rambling. “I am OK,” she protests. It is painfully obvious she is not OK. The audience is watching somebody cracking up on stage. She falls down some steps and the audience gasps, genuinely feeling she really has fallen, so convincing is McDonald’s performance. She is playing to full houses at Wyndham’s Theatre – so it is distressing to learn that Holiday at Emerson’s Bar played to an audience of only seven people.
McDonald is not only a powerful singer; she is also a powerful actress. The play, which is as emotionally draining for the audience to watch as it is for the actress to perform, is not to be missed.
Bat Out of Hell takes its name from the Meatloaf album, originally released in 1977. It was one of the most influential albums of all time. It contains seven major hits, 43 million copies have been sold worldwide, and Jim Steinman has now turned the album into a jukebox theatrical spectacular.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection