Friday, August 3, 2012

Stage Door Theatre: Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill (reviews)

Broward Stage Door Theatre opened its production of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill on July 20, 2012.
It’s 1959 and legendary musical performer Billie Holiday is just four months away from death as she steps to the microphone in a seedy bar in Philadelphia for one of her final performances. Though she is there to sing, the audience will find she has a lot more on her mind than music. In addition to featuring a dozen of her hits, Holiday tells the tale of who she is, in her own original . This production showcases the talents of the strong, yet, fragile woman who pioneered a new way of looking at music while presenting a story fused with drama as much as humor that plays like one of Lady Day’s legendary songs.
Dan Kelley directed Paulette Dozier, with musical direction by David Nagy, accompanied by Kai Sanchez and Howard Moss.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Built around a superb performance by Paulette Dozier, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill mounted at Broward Stage Door intersperses more than a dozen Holiday classics with the jazz chanteuse telling long stories about her tragic spiral.
Dozier and Kelley artfully and smoothly chart Holiday’s gradual descent, especially using body language. At first, there are the small graceful hand and arm gestures as she sings, body slightly leaning to one side, eyes always half-closed as if seeing an image in her head. Then, we see the increasingly wobbly figure who stumbles like a sleepwalker in a drug-induced haze.

But obviously, the requisite skill is in delivering Holiday’s repertoire. Dozier is more than a match for these two-minute slices of musical nirvana. While Holiday herself mocks her audiences’ expectation that she will sing her most famous songs, “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit,” Dozier/Holiday doesn’t stint on investing consummate technique and profound emotion in her deeply affecting versions. The production is elevated by a dead solid band of Kai Sanchez on upright bass and Howard Moss led by musical director David Nagy.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
The show has been done in South Florida before; in fact, star Paulette Dozier played Holiday at the Boca Raton Theatre Guild several months ago.

What makes her performance special is that Dozier is primarily a jazz singer, as was Holiday. Yes, Dozier is also a Carbonell Award-nominated actress, but her power and expressiveness as a singer trump her acting, transporting the audience as she interprets just over a dozen songs written by or identified with Holiday.
The actress’ voice is richer and deeper than Holiday’s, and when she’s singing, her voice is reliably strong and dramatic. Listening to her work her way through this set — including What a Little Moonlight Can Do, Crazy He Calls Me, God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit and Hush Now — is an exquisite experience.

Watching this sad, tormented woman get wasted as she reminisces about the many lows of her life is unsettling, even painful, as it should be.
For Holiday, brilliance and ruin went hand-in-hand. That juxtaposition is always on display in Dozier’s performance.
Michelle F. Solomon wrote for miamiartzine:
The role of singer Billie Holiday in the play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill isn't easy. In fact, it as demanding as any role can be. The actress portraying the 1930s-era songstress must have a versatile singing voice, be able to act with a range of emotion, plus capture the essence of a real person, and do all this while keeping an audience entertained for 90 minutes, straight through with no intermission. Although there is a three-piece band and the pianist has a small acting part, Lady Day is really a one-person show.
Dozier does a superb job of channeling Holiday, weaving in and out of an alcohol induced haze, singing the hits with the same depth and emotional urgency that the chanteuse mustered herself. Yet Dozier doesn't try to create a caricatured picture of the femme fatale, but imbues the role with a genial likeableness. She is a stronger singer than actress, and seeing her perform the Holiday songbook is, in itself, worth a night at the theater. Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is a tour de force for any actress and Dozier gives Holiday her due.
The energy level of the production could also be stepped up a pace, which drags at times and is, in part, due to the dense stories that Dozier has to deliver. Director Dan Kelley has obviously helped this along, but it could use just a bit more of a nudge.

The live, three-piece band is spot on and helps to create the illusion of a small jazz club, circa 1959. David Nagy, who has a few speaking lines as Jimmy, Holiday's paramour, musical director, and handler, is extremely talented on piano, and is richly genuine as the concerned Jimmy. Nagy is also the production's musical director.
Lady Day at Emerson's Bary & Grill plays at Broward Stage Door through August 26, 2012.

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