Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill – Cabaret Festival • Glam Adelaide

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill – Cabaret Festival

Billie Holiday, near the end of her life, interrupts her show to tell her life story.


Joy Yates Lady Day at Emersons Bar and Grill Cabaret FestivalPresented by the Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Reviewed Fri 18th June 2010

Venue: Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 7:30PM Saturday 19th June, 6:30 Sunday 20th June
Duration: 95mins
Tickets: premium $44.95/adult $34.95/conc/ $30.95
Bookings: for all Cabaret Festival shows: BASS 131 241 or

This production turned out to be a scripted play, written in 1987 by Lanie Robertson, with a selection of songs amongst the dialogue. It is based on the premise that Billie Holiday, very near the end of her life, is booked to perform at the fictional Emerson’s Bar and Grill in Philadelphia and, under the influence of alcohol, interrupts her show to tell her life story in reminiscences and anecdotes. This is, therefore, more a theatre piece than cabaret, especially as there is far more dialogue than music in this 95 minute show.

Billie Holiday, her stage name, was given the pet name Lady Day by her close friend and musical collaborator, tenor saxophonist Lester Young, whom she in turn called the President, later shortened to Prez. She had a short and tragic life of abusive relationships, prostitution, drug addiction and alcoholism, yet she recorded regularly between 1933 and 1959 and, in 1948, had a sold out concert at Carnegie Hall, shortly after being released from prison. In 1956 she played two more sold out concerts there. She died at the age of only 44 in July 1959.

Joy Yates played the role of Billie Holiday, accompanied by Dave MacRae as her pianist, Sonny Powers. Yates manages to sound very much like Holiday and gets close to her way of phrasing during the songs. MacRae is a fine pianist, too, and the pair exhibit a good rapport. In the monologue, however, the pace often falls away and this could benefit from stronger direction as it looks as though it has been self directed at this stage. Although Yates  is playing a drunk, it looks, from time to time, as though she is having trouble with lines, which also slows the pace.

In the end, the musical part of the show was great, but the monologue was rather too long and often too slow. For a cabaret performance a lot of trimming of the script, tight direction and the inclusion of quite a few more songs would have fitted the bill much better. The songs were definitely the highlights of this show, as the huge applause after each one clearly showed.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor Glam Adelaide.

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