International City Theater closes its season this fall with the ambitious “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill;” ambitious not because the scale is so epic but because it is so intimate. The musical drama is a fictional account of Billie Holiday’s last public performance before her death in July of 1959. The characters include Holiday, her musical accompanist Jimmy Powers, and that’s pretty much it.
Karole Foreman, who played Rose in ICT’s well-received production of “Fences” in 2017, plays Holiday, while musical director Stephan Terry doubles in the role of Powers. The choice of Foreman, most certainly an actor who sings, rather than a singer who acts, makes clear that what director Wren T. Brown most valued was a performer who would not only be able to recreate a plausible Holiday stage presence, but also communicate the contours of her all-to-short life whether speaking or singing.
The play, performed at the Beverly O’Neill Theater, takes place in a fictional seedy bar in Philadelphia. Holiday performs 16 songs, including such iconic standards as “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit” while recounting the often devastating turns of her life.
Another great thing: These are Holiday classics we never get tired of hearing.
Giving us a moment’s pause: Billie Holiday died at the age of 44. Considering that contemporaries Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra had careers of continued distinction well past their 40s, the mind is boggled, and saddened, about what might have been.
The Beverly O’Neill Theater is located at 300 E Ocean Blvd. For more information or tickets, click here.
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