There might be no better way to spend a day than being transported back in musical history.
I caught a matinee of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” followed by “After Midnight” that evening and by the end of the day, I felt like I was taken back in time.
I actually had no intention of seeing “Lady Day” as just last fall I saw a fantastic musical with Dee Dee Bridgewater as Billie Holiday and was blown away by her performance and didn’t want to tarnish my memory of that show. Also, while I love Audra McDonald, I felt her beautiful, lush soprano voice is not suited to take on Holiday. I was wrong.
The second McDonald opens her mouth in the play with music, the theatergoers collectively murmured “Oh My God!” as McDonald was able to reach into her own soul and bring Billie Holiday to life.
She doesn’t play Billie Holiday – she becomes her. From the second she enters the stage and right up until the curtain call, McDonald is Billie Holiday, giving us a rare glimpse into the near end of the life of the blues legend, still relying on her vices of drink and drugs to the bitter end.
McDonald’s performance is perhaps one of the best of the year. Normally, Tony voters might shy away from awarding someone who already has five awards. But there is no way she cannot be denied likely another statuette as she resurrects Holiday in a haunting, masterful performance.
One might forget that McDonald is more than a musical actress – some of her awards are for dramatic roles and this will likely follow.
While she sings (exactly like Billie Holiday), the show is considered a play with music so McDonald is able to show us her acting prowess as well. Not being consider a musical by Tony voters may come as a happy delight to Kelli O’Hara in “The Bridges of Madison County,” who is also a wonder in her show and now has a chance to win her first Tony Award since she won’t be competing with McDonald.
Tony Awards aside, “Lady Day” is a brilliant glimpse into the tragic life of someone whose big talent often took a backseat to her personal battles. Get tickets and more information at www.ladydayonbroadway.com.
Later that evening, I was taken further back in time to the Cotton Club and the Savoy in a revisit to the musical revue “After Midnight.”
When I first saw the show many months ago, I did like it but wanted to love it. My affection has grown as I looked at it through different eyes, viewing the show as revue rather than a musical. When I see a “musical,” I expect to see songs sprinkled in with a story and plot. But “Midnight” is light on plot but extremely strong on talent – on stage and behind the scenes.
Every dancer who crosses the stage is at the top of their game and are showcased to sparkling glory by director/choreographer Warren Carlyle, a Tony nominee for the show and definitely should win the award. He mixes in a lot of old school dance (tap and jazz) and sneaks in a tad of modern dance, creating a fresh and beautiful blend of musical styles.
Another interesting feature of “Midnight” is its guest stars. It started with Fantasia Barrino from “American Idol” (who is coming back May 13) and also featured k.d. lang, Toni Braxton and currently my favorite Vanessa Williams, who plays through May 11. Patti LaBelle will also be a guest in June.
It was great seeing Williams and hearing her beautiful, rich voice in the four or so songs she sings. As a fan of her recorded music and stints on TV, it was an extra thrill to see her live. It was also wonderful to see how she connected with the audience, exchanging glances with people in the orchestra as well as the balcony.
Another star of “Midnight” truly is the Tony nominated costumes, which offers the best and brightest costumes on Broadway. Hope Isabel Toledo hears her name called at Tony time because there is such detail in every aspect of the costumes. It’s amazing how many costume changes there are in a 90 minute show. Each with the same keen eye for color, fabric, beading and sparkle.
See some of the costumes and get more information at www.aftermidnightbroadway.com.
With each show being about 90 minutes, it might make a nice treat to transport yourself back into these memorable periods in musical history. You’d still have plenty of time in your day to make your own music and enjoy all that New York has to offer.