Singer Audra McDonald transforms into Billie Holiday on Broadway

Mon Apr 14, 2014 12:41pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Singer Audra McDonald, a five-time Tony winner, channels legendary American jazz singer Billie Holiday in the Broadway musical "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" in a performance critics described as a "spellbinding tour de force" and "intoxicating."

McDonald, 43, is a classically trained soprano who won her last best actress Tony for "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" in 2012. But in "Lady Day" she becomes Holiday, who is considered one of the greatest jazz singers ever.

The musical, which debuted off-Broadway nearly 30 years ago, opened on Sunday at the Circle in the Square theater for a limited 10-week run.

"With her plush, classically trained soprano scaled down to jazz-soloist size, Ms. McDonald sings selections from Holiday's repertoire with sensitive musicianship and rich seams of feeling that command rapt admiration," said the New York Times.

The entertainment industry publication Variety said the musical "was waiting for a great singer like Audra McDonald to reach out and bring this tragic figure back from the grave," while the Los Angeles Times said it is a "showcase for McDonald's rare artistry."


The show, written by Lanie Robertson ("Back County Crimes" and "Nasty Little Secrets") is set in a small, seedy bar in Philadelphia, where Holiday, in poor health, performed before a handful of people just a month before she died in 1959.

Although Robertson was not at the bar for the performance, it was described to him by a lover who was there, which prompted him to write the show.   Continued...

Actress Audra McDonald poses for a photograph while promoting the play "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" in New York March 17, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson