Audra McDonald: Marvels As Billie Holliday In “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”

Want know why Audra McDonald is the most-celebrate performer in Tony Awards history? Well, just go see “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” and you will understand why!

The six-time Tony Award winner is transfixing as Billie Holliday in the musical set in a seedy joint in North Philadelphia where the ‘God Bless the Child’ singer played one of her last club dates in 1959.

From the moment McDonald walks into the Circle in the Square (W. 50th St between Broadway & 8th Ave) and joins Clayton Craddock (drums), George Farmer (bass) and the dynamic Shelton Becton (on piano as Holliday’s manager, Jimmy Powers) onstage, she embodies the troubled singer to the fullest – speech, vocals and gestures.

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The former “Private Practice” star’s superb delivery of Holliday standards and her captivating monologues enchant everyone in the 682-seat theatre.

The Emerson’s Bar & Grill is completely recreated in the Circle in the Square, with part of the audience sitting at cocktail tables with ashtrays just like the storied Philadelphia watering hole. One side of the stage has been closed off and elevated to house the circular nightclub stage where the jazz trio sits. McDonald works every aspect of that stage and the surrounding area with her delivery.

“Lady Day” includes audience engagement, as theatergoers forget McDonald is playing Holliday and emotionally connect to her character as though Holliday is performing on The Great White Way. had to help the 43-year-old actress down the steps three times as she personified a drunken Holliday; and in one scene when she nearly falls down the steps, you could hear a pin drop after the collective gasp from theatergoers.

Audra McDonald in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”

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McDonald delivers her monologue that presents Holliday’s troubled life with ease.  This thespian’s ability to navigate such emotional terrain with precision and effortlessly weep at the most innocent recollection was masterful, to say the least.

[pullquote_right]”After Audra McDonald finishes with this role, they may as well throw away the script. I’ve seen others do it, but no one else can play Billie Holliday after the way she did it,” actress Vanessa Bell Calloway told about the play.[/pullquote_right]Holliday lived life on her own terms and that message was conveyed in her song, ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.’  Her stubborn insistence to live the way she chose to is what ultimately killed Holliday – until McDonald brought her back to life in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.”

At the 2014 Tony Awards, McDonald won for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role in “Lady Day.”  She became the first person to win Tony Awards in all four performance categories, and also broke the record for the most Tony Awards won by a performer.

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” has been extended until August 31.  See for yourself why everyone is blown away!

Audra McDonald in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”

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