Recommended*** Most of us know Porchlight Music Theatre as a company that brings us the big book musical on a smaller and more intimate stage. To celebrate Black History Month, they have drifted into Black Ensemble territory with the marvelous Alexis Rogers as the infamous Billie Holiday in ” Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & grill”, a sentimental look at the life of this great Jazz singer. Written by Lanie Robertson, this is a 90 minute “Cabaret” evening ( the like of which Davenport’s is known for). It is 1958 and we are in Philadelphia, the very late show. This is what might be one of the last performances of the legendary chanteuse, Billie Holiday as she performs with her jazz trio, Jaret Landon ( as Jimmy) at the keyboard and conductor along with Michael Witherspoon (percussion) and Chris Thigpen(Bass) these are solid musicians who make the arrangements by Danny Holgate fill the intimate theater at Stage 773, feel as if you are in this dark club.
The set (Jeffrey D.Kmiec ) allows us to view the dressing room as well as the stage area, allowing us to see her nervousness and to see her take swigs from a bottle and even later in the show do some drugs and come back out to bring her music and story to light. This was the end of her years in public and in her appearance she not only shares her music, but her memories and dreams that never came about. She went through a great deal in her early years, dealing with her being a Negro in a “white world” and although people paid to hear her sing, they wouldn’t allow her to use their rest room, or the clubs that wouldn’t allow her in until she was to perform. These were the rimes she lived in and probably one of the reasons she took to drink and drugs- to escape from the segregation that separated the Blacks from the Whites.
Directed by Rob Lindley ( a cabaret performer himself), we get the sense that this return home to Philly may be her last. As it turned out, it was four months later that she passed away, so this biography was written not only to honor her, but to tell her story. While the musicians and Ms Rogers are amazing, the story may be a bit to wordy. During the performance, many audience members looked to their watches- perhaps a few more songs and a little le history would have made a difference, but each and every member of the audience rose to give Ms Rogers a standing ovation, which was rewarded with another song. Fourteen glorious songs, performed to perfection by Ms. Rogers, one of Chicago’s finest talents truly makes this a memorable experience and we get a little Black History as well.
“Lady Day” will continue at Stage 773 located at 1225 West Belmont Avenue, through March 10th with performances as follows:
Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $39 (open seating) and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-327-5252 or online at www.stage777.com
There is valet parking available ($10), some street parking ( metered and not) and Cooper’s restaurant directly across the street offers free parking as well.
SPECIAL NOTE: this production will move to The Beverly Arts Center located at 2407 West 111th Street for performances, Friday, March 22nd at 7:30 p.m.-Saturday the 23rd at 7:30 p.m. an dSunday , the 24th at 3 p.m. Tickets there are $26 and can be purchased by calling 773-445-3838 or online at www.beverlyartcenter.org.
To see what Porchlight is doing next, visit www.porchlightmusictheatre.org
To see what others are saying about “Lady” , go to www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click “Lady Day at Emerson Bar & Grill”