“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” Opens on Broadway

The Circle in the Square Theatre is one of Broadway’s more intimate venues, allowing the audience to get up close and personal with the performer in front of them.  In the case of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, which opened on April 13, 2014, the star is five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, and the personal story is that of the timeless and beloved jazz singer Billie Holiday.  According to the largely positive critical response, this play with music is an engaging and compelling piece, in which McDonald guides her crowd through the journey of Holiday’s life – both musical and personal.  The play is written by Lanie Robertson, directed by Lonny Price, and the music was arranged and orchestrated by Tim Weil.

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The play was first produced at New York’s Off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre in 1986, and this is its Broadway premiere.  This bio-show recounts the songs that made Billie Holiday famous, as well as the tales that made her notorious.  Specifically, she was an alcoholic and heroin addict, who only found balance and solace through the deep bounty of her singing voice.  The fictional set-up is meant to recreate one of Holiday’s final performances, at a small, intimate bar in Philadelphia.  Fortunately, the Circle in the Square Theatre is able to recreate this venue better than many other Broadway houses might.  Still, The New York Times critiqued the show for its lack of believability, for Holiday often performed in a dark room with a spotlight so she could not see her own audience, and she would have never divulged such a personal tale as McDonald does in this portrayal.

This show follows in the tradition of biographical shows based off the lives of now deceased performers, delving into their tragedy as well as their timeless beauty.  For instance, End of the Rainbow, also a bio-play with music, ran on Broadway in the spring of 2012, with Tracie Bennett portraying Judy Garland with all her force and folly, including her timeless hits such as “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”  Furthermore, the spring of 2013 saw Nathan Lane playing the 1930s burlesque performer Chauncey in The Nance, exploring the ups and the downs of his life.  Time and again, producers rely on the familiarity of historical figures recreated by modern-day performers, banking on the double name recognition to move tickets.

Lady Day and Emerson’s Bar and Grill is just hanging on at the box office.  As it is only playing seven performances a week in a theatre with only 682 seats, the show already faces difficulty in competing with the other shows in terms of weekly grosses.  Even so, its weekly figures have been fairly low.  In the week ending April 13, 2014, the show grossed $366,156, which was only 58.73% of its gross potential.  This is about how well the show has been doing since it began previews.  It is scheduled to close on August 10, 2014.

Broadway’s Audra McDonald Named Musician of the Year

Audra McDonaldThe performing arts publication Musical America has named multiple Tony Award winning actress and singer Audra McDonald as their Musician of the Year. McDonald will formally receive the honor in an awards ceremony being held at Lincoln Center on December 17.

Audra McDonald has starred on Broadway in numerous productions, including Porgy and Bess, Ragtime, 110 in the Shade, Marie Christine, and Carousel. Although she is particularly well-known as a musical theater performer, she has also appeared in plays such as A Raisin in the Sun and Master Class.

Through the television show Private Practice, Audra McDonald is also known to a broader audience. She has recorded a number of solo albums and his currently promoting her latest, Go Back Home, with a national tour. She will next be seen on TV playing the Mother Abbess in NBC’s upcoming live broadcast of The Sound of Music.

Alan Cumming and Audra McDonald Are Made in NY

Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald

Two of Broadway’s best will be honored with 2013 Made in NY Awards in a presentation at Gracie Mansion on June 10.  Audra McDonald (Porgy and Bess, Ragtime) and Alan Cumming (Macbeth, Cabaret), both Tony Award winners, are receiving these special awards, which recognize both people and organizations who have made notable contributions to NYC’s entertainment and media industries.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Media & Entertainment Commissioner Katherine L. Oliver will host the Made in NY Awards ceremony, which will include a performance from Broadway’s Kinky Boots (to be introduced by the show’s bookwriter, Harvey Fierstein).

“The honorees of the 2013 ‘Made in NY Awards’ have made New York City proud by establishing their remarkable careers here,” stated NYC Mayor Bloomberg. “They are a part of a community of thousands of New Yorkers who together have brought the City to the forefront of the entertainment and digital media industries, helping to make New York City an exciting and thriving place to be.”

Audra McDonald To Release New Album May 21

Audra McDonaldMultiple Tony Award winner and Broadway star Audra McDonald (Porgy and Bess) is set to release her fifth solo recording on May 21. The album, titled Go Back Home, will be available on Nonesuch Records.

Along with the title song (from John Kander & Fred Ebb’s musical The Scottsboro Boys), Go Back Home will feature an array of songs from Broadway shows and other musicals, including Stephen Sondheim’s “The Glamorous Life,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Edelweiss,” Kander & Ebb’s “First You Dream,” and Jule Styne and Comden & Green’s “Make Someone Happy”.

As she has often done before, McDonald will feature the work of two of her favorite modern musical theater composers, Adam Guettel and Michael John LaChiusa. The album will also highlight songs by emerging composers like Adam Gwon and Will Reynolds.

Shortly before the recording’s release, Audra McDonald will perform in a May 9 concert at Avery Fisher Hall to promote the album. PBS will film the concert and subsequently broadcast it as a part of the “Live From Lincoln Center” series on May 24.

Porgy and Bess Closes on Broadway Today

The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess closes today, having played over 300 performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.  The famed American folk opera debuted on Broadway in 1935, but this production brought it to a whole new audience.  The stunning score features Gershwin classics like “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty Of Nothin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now”.

Before the production even began performances on Broadway, it had created a stir.  Director Diane Paulus, along with playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and composer Diedre Murray (who adapted this version of the opera to make it more suitable for Broadway), announced their intention to flesh out the character of Bess in particular, and to make further changes to the show in order to make it more palatable for modern audiences who might find aspects of its portrayal of poor black life outdated.  Many theater purists were outraged at the thought of changes being made to a musical masterpiece, but eventually their voices were drowned out by the positive buzz and acclaim that accompanied the show when it finally opened.

Porgy and Bess won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, and star Audra McDonald nabbed yet another Tony.  The musical also received numerous additional nominations for stars Norm Lewis, Phillip Boykin, and David Alan Grier, for director Paulus, and for the show’s orchestrators and designers.