note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Beverly Creasey
I’ve seen the Billie Holiday biodrama, LADY DAY, more than a few times but this time is the right time, I’m happy to say, because the Lanie Robertson performance piece soars under Spiro Veloudos’ direction. The Lyric Stage production (running through April 24th) with Jacqui Parker as the fragile chanteuse gives the play the depth and tragedy I always assumed it lacked. The other productions I saw stressed the singing where Parker acts the heck out of the stories she tells in between the sensational songs.
Chauncey Moore music directs the show and plays Holiday’s more than understanding accompanist for her “comeback” performance at “Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” Robertson has Holiday drinking liquid courage in the first part of the show, then leaving the stage long enough for a hit of heroin that sets her memory reeling for the rest of the show. Parker nails the slight slur of a drunk and the subtle uncertainty of an addict. We can’t help but feel the palpable pain she suffers. Parker doesn’t imitate the drawl of Holiday’s vocal phrasing: (If you want to hear the “real” Holiday you can listen to her recordings.) Parker and Moore create the world in which Holiday lived so we can experience what it was like back then: when lynchings and Jim Crow segregation were commonplace.
Veloudos’ use of lighting (Karen Perlow) and atmosphere (Skip Curtiss’ jazz cellar) can bring the focus to a pinpoint as when Parker delivers the searing “Strange Fruit.” It’s a remarkable tour de force. Don’t miss it.