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Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill

Sep 29, 2011 - Oct 9, 2011

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
By Lanie Robertson
DATES Sept. 29-Oct. 9, 2011

A celebration of life and art fully lived. “Music is light to me.” – Billie Holiday
The time is 1959. The place is a seedy bar in Philadelphia. The audience is about to witness one of Billie Holiday’s last performances, given four months before her death. More than a dozen musical numbers are interlaced with salty, often humorous, reminiscences to project a riveting portrait of the lady and her music. Lean back, absorb the music and enjoy the ride.

“A searing portrait of a woman whose art was triumphant.” On Stage

“Original and riveting.” London Times

Billie Holiday: Sierra White
Jimmy Powers: Pernell Ferguson

Director: Stacy Brothers
Music Director: Andrew Rycker
Stage Manager: Jennifer Jensen
Production Stage Manager: Rachael Rhoades
Scenic Designer: Casey L. Gradischnig
Lighting Designer: Chris Williams, Shawn Jensen
Costume Designer: Kelly Schaefer
Sound Designer: Josh Jepson
Props Designer: Austin Kopsa
Hair/Wig/Make-up Designer: Cindy Hummel
Dramaturge: Kim Fitch
Carpenter: David Bruce


Jazz singer Billie Holiday comes back to life and slowly slips away again in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” which StageWest opened Thursday at the Stoner Theater. And in between, there is That Voice.
It’s more of an impression than a strict impersonation, but Sierra White’s mesmerizing performance captures the singer’s unmistakable sound — part molasses, part Lollipop Kid, part howling cat. It’s strange that it all comes from one set of vocal cords, and stranger still that it sounds so good.
With a drink in one hand and a microphone in the other, White embodies “The Lady,” as a saxophonist once called her, on a night in 1959 at a club in Philadelphia. She unloads stories about her rocky childhood, her concert tours in the segregated South, her heroin addiction and her stint in jail.
There are funny moments, but most of the banter is sad, despite her attempts at shrugging, profanity-laced indifference. For all the pain the world inflicted upon her, Holiday probably hurt herself more. She died at age 44.
White is a recent Drake graduate and younger than Holiday was on that night that never really happened. But over the course of the evening, she demonstrates the world-weariness that eventually brought the legend down. She is beautiful but fading, like a wilting flower.
With help from her pianist, played by the gifted Pernell Ferguson, she sings through more than a dozen songs, including “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “God Bless the Child” and the unsettling “Strange Fruit.” Ferguson doesn’t say or sing much, but sounds good when he does. His main job is to steady her emotional descent, nudging her into the next number before the booze gets the best of her.
If there’s anything wrong with the show, led by director Stacy Brothers and musical director Andrew Ryker, it’s that it doesn’t start with quite enough energy to carry through to the end. It’s only 80 minutes, but it seems longer because White’s character spirals steadily downward.


Sep 29, 2011
Oct 9, 2011
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StageWest Theatre
900 Mulberry St., Suite 205
Des Moines, IA 50309 United States
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