Originally seen at Derby Playhouse, the two-hander - written by Lanie Robertson and starring Dawn Hope as Holiday - had a sell-out run last summer at London's New End as part of the theatre's "American Exploits" season. The play takes place in 1959, around midnight in the small Philadelphia bar of the title, where Holiday is making one of her last appearances.
Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadephia, Pennsylvania in 1915, Holiday started her career in a Baltimore speakeasy and made her first commercial recording with Benny Goodman in 1933. Over the next 11 years to 1944, she recorded over 200 tracks, including such jazz standards as "God Bless the Child", "When a Woman Loves a Man", "Don't Explain", and "T'aint Nobody's Biz-ness", many of which feature in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.
In addition to music, Holiday's life was marked by failed romance, heroin addiction and poverty, a tragedy captured posthumously on film in 1972 with Lady Sings the Blues in which Diana Ross played the singer. The real Billie Holiday died in 1959, aged 44.
Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is directed by former Derby Playhouse artistic director Mark Clements and designed by Chris Crosswell, with musical direction by Warren Wills, who accompanies Hope onstage on the piano, playing Holiday's musical director Jimmy Powers. Lighting is by Alexandra Stafford and costumes by Colin Mayes.
Following Huddersfield, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill visits Farnham, Rhyl, Taunton, Scarborough, Chester, Canterbury, Bury St Edmunds, King's Lynn, Manchester, Barrow-in-Furness and Salisbury. The tour is produced by Stars & Angels Ltd with the New End Theatre.
- by Terri Paddock