Billie Holiday, known as Lady Day, was one of the greatest jazz singers from the 1930s-‘50s. She recorded with Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson and Count Basie, as well as touring with Artie Shaw in 1937 and 1938. Her three concerts at Carnegie Hall were sold out, and she sang in Europe, as well as the U.S.
In a mesmerising production the story of this remarkable artist is brought to life. With the stage placed to the left, with some of the audience sitting at tables, and the bar placed to one side, the setting recreated the Emerson Bar & Grill. This allowed Zahra Newman as Lady Day to move comfortably among the audience as well as perform from the stage.
Wearing a long white dress, Zahra creates the spirit and artistry of Billie Holiday with such songs as I Wonder Where our Love has Gone, God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit and Deep Song (I only know misery). As the evening wore on, as she imbibed more alcohol, as she became more disorientated, it was clear that life had taken its toll.
The musicians, pianist Kym Purling, drummer Calvin Welch and double bass player Victor Rounds provided great support, with Kym Purling, as Jimmy, being the ‘main man’.
Interlaced with the music is the story of her troubled life, her dramatic childhood, drug and alcohol addiction, abusive relationships and being subjected to appalling racial prejudice and sexism.
In contrast she was an acknowledged jazz singer, successful recording artist, and for a time earning a lot of money. Lanie Robertson’s script weaves this story skilfully, told with ironic humour.
Zahra does not attempt to impersonate Billie Holiday, but in her performance, her acting, her charming of the audience, the stumbles and the singing, she evokes Billie Holiday’s life and artistry with authenticity and integrity. It is a virtuoso performance.
State Theatre Company South Australia
Directed by Mitchell Butel
Space Theatre 25 Aug- 9 Sep