Fortunately, Dee Dee Bridgewater is the star of this show, making her mark as the legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday, caressing each word with tones that create the exact image of the troubled, drug addicted and lonely performer – the famous Lady Day. Her singing is spectacular. Close your eyes. Is it Lady Day or is it Dee Dee Bridgewater?
Bringing to mind those 1970’s commercials – you may wonder – Is it live or is it Memorex? Ms. Bridgewater’s uncanny renditions of the more than twenty five songs is the only reason to see this show and judging from her many fans in the audience it could have a healthy run at The Little Shubert Theatre on 42 Street. If only…
If only there was a writer and director that could tell this extremely compelling and dramatic story in a better way. Stephen Stahl has created a hodgepodge of elements that never gel. Divided into two acts, the frame work of the show falls flat with its onstage combo of piano (Bill Jolly), bass (James Cammack), drums (Jerome Jennings)and saxophone (Neil Johnson) interacting somewhat with their star. All excellent, by the way.
Act I is the rehearsal for the concert that evening in London (1954) where Lady Day will attempt a comeback after being busted in Philadelphia and losing her Cabaret Card thus making it impossible for her to perform in her intimate nightclubs.
And so she has traversed the Continent successfully and is now ready to hit London big time in a rather too large theater. Her stage manager Robert (David Ayers) tries to keep her straight and away from the booze and drugs while encouraging her and giving her some hope as we learn through flashbacks the story of her troubled life as she speaks to God, her unseen parents and simulates her childhood rape.
There is also a hunky assistant stage manager hanging around and hanging lights (Rafael Poueriet) in a thankless role.
Act II is the actual concert where some of this material is repeated which got me to wondering that perhaps we only need to see Act II. Lady Day is decked out in all her white finery including a flashy fur stole and glittering gown (Patricia A. Hibbert) and her trademark gardenias. And she is drunk as a skunk. But she quickly recovers and sings her heart and soul out. She really is terrific.
But she berates her audience and we wonder why they would stick around. Just to see her fall flat on her face? Morbid curiosity? The real reason I gather is to hear her sing. For when she sings it is indeed heavenly. Unfortunately the rest of the show is more blah than bliss.
www.LadyDayTheMusical.com Photos: Carol Rosegg
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