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Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

Written by Lanie Robertson

Belvoir St Theatre, State Theatre South Australia and Melbourne Theatre Company

Belvoir St Theatre

September 2023


4 STARS


As you enter the theatre, you're transported to a musty South Philadelphia jazz bar in 1959. There are exposed brick walls with cabaret style seating surrounding the stage, dimly lit by the mismatched lampshades that extend out to the house lights. On the small corner stage sits a baby grand piano, double bass and drum kit, soon to be filled with the tunes of Billie Holiday. Written by Lanie Robertson, Lady Day at Emerson Bar & Grill is a one woman, jukebox musical that tells the story of Billie Holiday’s life. Premiering in 1986 the work includes several of Holiday’s beloved hits dispersed with dialogue. In partnership with State Theatre Company of South Australia and Melbourne Theatre Company, Belvoir St Theatre presents Lady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill.


The work begins with a musical trio filling the theatre with a few standards led by jazz pianist Kym Purling assuming the role of Jimmy Powers, Victor Rounds on double bass and Calvin Welch on drums. Zahra Newman walks onto the stage wearing a floor length, A-line halter neck, floor length floral white dress with elbow length, fingerless gloves and sings ‘I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone’. Alternating between song and dialogue, Newman has the audience in the palm of her hand as Holiday tells us how she got to where she is today. A quote from early in the work aptly set the scene for what lay ahead “My mother married at sixteen, my father was eighteen. I was three.”


Photos by Matt Byrne


As you enter the theatre, you're transported to a musty South Philadelphia jazz bar in 1959. There are exposed brick walls with cabaret style seating surrounding the stage, dimly lit by the mismatched lampshades that extend out to the house lights. On the small corner stage sits a baby grand piano, double bass and drum kit, soon to be filled with the tunes of Billie Holiday. Written by Lanie Robertson, Lady Day at Emerson Bar & Grill is a one woman, jukebox musical that tells the story of Billie Holiday’s life. Premiering in 1986 the work includes several of Holiday’s beloved hits dispersed with dialogue. In partnership with State Theatre Company of South Australia and Melbourne Theatre Company, Belvoir St Theatre presents Lady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill.


The work begins with a musical trio filling the theatre with a few standards led by jazz pianist Kym Purling assuming the role of Jimmy Powers, Victor Rounds on double bass and Calvin Welch on drums. Zahra Newman walks onto the stage wearing a floor length, A-line halter neck, floor length floral white dress with elbow length, fingerless gloves and sings ‘I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone’. Alternating between song and dialogue, Newman has the audience in the palm of her hand as Holiday tells us how she got to where she is today. A quote from early in the work aptly set the scene for what lay ahead “My mother married at sixteen, my father was eighteen. I was three.”


 

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