Generously Sponsored by
Jerry & Sharon Melson
Karole Foreman* as Billie Holiday
Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy Ebony Repertory Theatre
*Member, Actors' Equity Association
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc. www.concordtheatricals.com
The videotaping or making of electronic or other audio and/or visual recordings of this production and distributing recordings or streams in any medium, including the Internet, is strictly prohibited, a violation of the author(s)'s rights and actionable under United States copyright law. for more information, please visit: https://concordtheatricals.com/resources/protecting-artists
About the Play
The time is 1959. The place is a seedy bar in Philadelphia. The audience is about to witness one of Billie Holiday’s last performances, given four months before her death. More than a dozen musical numbers are interlaced with salty, often humorous reminiscences to project a riveting portrait of the lady and her music.
The play premiered at the Alliance Theatre in 1986 transferring to Off-Broadway followed by a Broadway production which opened in 2014 featuring Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday. McDonald was awarded her sixth Tony Award for her performance.
Lady Day won the 1987 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Book.
About the Production
Director Wren T. Brown says Holiday’s music continues to soar and stir audiences six decades later. “I am excited to direct Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, because it affords me the opportunity to explore and examine the life of one of the most transcendent artists of the 20th century. Through her singing, Billie Holiday used everything that happened in her life to inform her art. Many of the songs she performed and recorded have become standards, and have caused audiences to feel her heart and soul, in a manner unlike any other artist. Sixty years after her death, at a time in America when race, gender, and the opioid crisis are being discussed loudly on a daily basis, Billie Holiday's life and career are a great example of what it means to not just survive but triumph in the face of lifelong abuse and struggle.”
About the Author
Lanie Robertson writes about iconic artists and the societal issues they faced in Nasty Little Secrets, The Insanity of Mary Girard, Back County Crimes, and Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, which was produced on Broadway in 2014. His plays are widely produced nationally and internationally. He’s a member of the Dramatists Guild, Writers Guild, East; and the Societe des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques.
Robertson is quoted in encyclopedia.com discussing his inspirations in becoming a playwright, “From kindergarten until high school graduation, I attended sixteen schools in fourteen of these United States. I believe my childhood influenced my theater work in many ways: it established me in my psyche as an eternal outsider; it attuned my ear to the sound of people’s voices and to how meaning is often conveyed through intonations that revealed the truer feelings hiding behind the sense of the words people use; and it exposed me to a wide range of personality types and identities that lurk within regional identification.” While the author aligns with Aristotle in the need to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. He doesn’t however, adhere to a chronological structure. Instead, he approaches historical characters at significant points in their lives. Figures such as Billie Holiday, John Wilkes Booth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Eugene O’Neill, Hank Williams, Louis Armstrong, Mae West, Noel Coward, among others.
About Billie Holiday
Born Eleanora Fagan in 1915 and died at the age of 44 in 1959 after a tumultuous yet successful recording career that began after singing in Harlem nightclubs. Billie Holiday, nicknamed "Lady Day” recorded for Columbia and Decca records and performed to a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall in the late 40s. At an early age she was influenced by Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Her first recording, at the age of 18, was with Benny Goodman, one of the two tracks she recorded “Riffin’ the Scotch,” sold 5,000 records. Producer John Hammond said of the young Holiday, she sang like an improvising jazz genius. In the late 30’s she toured briefly with Count Basie and Artie Shaw. In 1941 Holiday recorded "God Bless the Child" becoming her most popular record selling over a million copies. Another huge hit followed when she signed to Decca Records and recorded “Lover Man” which crossed her over from jazz to pop.
In 1947, without attorney representation she pleaded guilty to drug possession. The conviction caused her to lose her Cabaret Card limiting the venues in which she was able to perform. DownBeat magazine critic Nat Hentoff wrote of her later concert, “Lady’s sound, a texture simultaneously steel-edged and yet soft inside; a voice that was almost unbearably wise in disillusion and yet childlike. The audience was hers from before she sang, greeting her and saying good-bye with heavy, loving applause. It was a night when Billie was on top, undeniably the best and most honest jazz singer alive.” Holiday was posthumously nominated for 23 Grammy awards and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, among others.