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Lady Day is Alive


Dee Dee Bridgewater is superb in bringing to life the the voice of music legend Billie Holiday in Stephen Stahl’s Lady Day.  An icon of jazz music, Billie Holiday’s life is showcased in this latest revised production that was initially staged in 1987.  The music of this Harlem Renaissance star, is nothing more than a perfect balance of Billie Holiday’s personal triumphs and turmoil, with an attempted London stage comeback that theater audiences can experience for themselves.

Indeed Lady Day centers around the main character that is Billie Holiday, most fittingly played by Dee Dee Bridgewater whose credits include nine Grammy Award nominations and three wins: Best Jazz Vocal Album for “Dear Ella,” Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocal for “Cotton Tail” (from “Dear Ella”), and the 2011 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album for “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee.”  She is also memorable for her Broadway role as Glinda, the Good Witch, in “The Wiz” with a performance that won her the Tony Award’s Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Multi-award-winning set designer Beowulf Boritt, costumes designer Patricia A. Hibbert, and acclaimed lighting designed by Ryan O’Gara heads the design team along with Jason Crystal designing sound, and DIVE designing purposeful video projections that adds to a modern update of Lady Day.  The vibe of the Little Shubert Theater in which this production is staged, feels exactly like the theater that Billie Holiday was attempting her comeback.
The cast of Lady Day includes David Ayers (Wicked and SILENCE!) in the role of “Robert,” Billie Holiday’s Manager and newcomer Rafael Poueriet in the role of the “Assistant Stage manager”  as well as Jim Cammack (veteran bass player for legendary jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal),  Jerome Jennings (performer & drummer for Benny Golson and Sonny Rollins),  Neil Johnson (acclaimed tenor sax player for his international style) and Mr. Jolly (pianist/composer/arranger) in the roles of the onstage musicians, complete the acting ensemble.

Lady Day is for anyone who loves history, jazz, music, theater, fashion and life, but I think most of all it is a dedication to her fans familiar with her life story. If you are a Billie Holiday music fan like I am, you will leave the theater with a deeper perspective of her body of work, with classics such as “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless The Child” and “Swing Brother Swing.”  If you love fashion, you’ll see Billie Holiday in a breathtaking beaded gown designed by Patricia A. Hibbert (my interview with her here) swaddled in a luxurious fur stole that has become a fashion signature along with her head-dress gardenia .  Dee Dee infuses the personal triumph and psychological depth, with which these songs were probably meant as she brings to life both music and character of the late Billie, a fete that has to be seen to understand why she is  a star that still shines to this day.

Lady Day opens today at the Little Shubert Theater, at 422 West 42nd Street, New York, NY.

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg


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