Friday, May 22, 2015

Lady Day at Emerson's & Grill presented by Palm Beach Dramaworks

The Story of Billie Holiday

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill  
by Lanie Robertson

Just four months before her death, the great Billie Holiday takes the stage at a watering hole in Philadelphia, where she relates the story of her hard-knock life and triumphantly shares more than a dozen songs.

Final production of the 2015 - 2016 season
through June 7th at the Don & Ann Brown Theatre


or call (561) 514-4042 ext. 2.
Approximate show length is 1 hr 25 mins. 
There is no intermission.

201 Clematis Street
West Palm Beach FL 33401 (561)514-4042

Produced by Louise & Barry Snyder
Directed by J. Barry Lewis
Featuring Tracey Conyer Lee and Brian Whitted
Music Direction by Brian Whitted

Palm Beach Dramaworks concludes its fifteenth anniversary season with Lanie Robertson's Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, a moving and surprisingly joyous look back at the too-short, turbulent life of the legendary Billie Holiday. Lady Day is presented at the Don & Ann Brown Theatre on Clematis Street in Downtown West Palm Beach Florida.

April 7 marked the centennial of Holiday's birth; she died at the age of 44 in 1959. The play is inspired by a performance she gave before a very small audience in a Philadelphia club (not named Emerson's Bar & Grill) just four months before her death. Robertson heard about the performance through a friend and used it as the impetus for a piece in which Lady Day, a nickname given to Holiday by the great saxophonist Lester Young, intertwines more than a dozen songs with her harrowing life story. She was, by then, a shell of her former self, her vocal skills diminished due to too many years of heroin and alcohol abuse. But despite her vocal shortcomings, her connection to her music and to her audience never wavered. Among the songs heard in the show are "God Bless the Child" (which she co-wrote), "Crazy He Calls Me," "T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do," and "Strange Fruit," a powerful protest song about lynching.  

PBD's production is directed by J. Barry Lewis and features Tracey Conyer Lee as Billie and Brian Whitted,who is also the show's music director, as her pianist, Jimmy Powers. Phil McArthur is the bassist. Scenic design is by Jeff Cowie, costume design is by Leslye Menshouse, lighting design is by Kirk Bookman, and sound design is by Richard Szczublewski.

Lady Day premiered at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in April,1986, with Reenie Upchurch as Billie. The show opened off-Broadway two months later at the Vineyard Theatre, and moved to the Westside Arts Theatre in September. Lonette McKee played Billie for most of the run; she was succeeded by S. Epatha Merkerson, who would return to the role in October, 1987 in Los Angeles.Lady Day had its Broadway premiere in April, 2014, when Audra McDonald took on the role at Circle in the Square. The scheduled 10-week run was extended three times.    
Lanie Robertson's plays include the bio-dramas Nasty Little Secrets, about the playwright Joe Orton, who was murdered; Alfred Stieglitz Loves O'Keeffe; Woman Before a Glass, about socialite and art collector Peggy Guggenheim; and The Gardener, about the friendship between Claude Monet and Georges Clemenceau. His work has been produced nationally and internationally at such venues as the Alley Theatre, Arena Stage, Delaware Theatre, the Edinburgh Festival, Festival d'Avignon, George Street Playhouse, the Kennedy Center, the Old Globe Theatre, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Playwrights Horizons, Primary Stages, Theatre de la Huchette, Theatre Petit Montparnasse, Theatre Silvia Montfort, Vineyard Theatre, Virginia Stage, Walnut Street Theatre, the Westside Arts Theatre, and Williamstown Theatre Festival. Robertson is a member of the Dramatists Guild; Writers Guild, East; and the Société Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques.

Palm  Beach Dramaworks is a non-profit, professional theatre and is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the South Florida Theatre League, Florida Professional Theatres Association, and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County.

The performance schedule is as follows: Evening performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8PM, and select Sundays at 7PM. Matinee performances are on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2PM. Wednesday matinees and Sunday evenings include a post-performance discussion. Individual tickets are $62, with specially priced preview tickets at $55 and Opening Night tickets at $77. Student tickets are available for $10; tickets for educators are half price with proper ID (other restrictions apply). Group rates for 20 or more and discounted season subscriptions are also available.

The Don & Ann Brown Theatre is located in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach, at 201 Clematis Street. For ticket information contact the box office at (561) 514-4042, or visit Box office hours are  10AM to 5PM Monday through Saturday, and 11AM to 5PM on Sunday. On performance dates, the box office stays open through intermission.  
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