“Lady Day” Plays Final Performance

Extensions Upon Extensions, and Wins for Audra McDonald

microphoneOn October 5, 2014, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill played it final performance at the Circle in the Square Theatre. It began performances on March 25, 2014, with its official opening night on April 13, 2014. Originally intending to play for only a limited 10-week engagement, the show continually extended until it ending up running for 193 performances in all. The play with music starred Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday, and was essentially a bio-play in which McDonald recounted the highs and the lows of Billie Holiday’s life and career. The play received two 2014 Tony Award nominations, winning them both – McDonald took home the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play, and Steve Canyon Kennedy won for Best Sound Design of a Play. This event actually let Audra McDonald make Tony Award history, as she became the first woman to win the awards for all four acting categories: Best Lead Actress in a Musical, Best Lead Actress in a Play, Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, and Best Supporting Actress in a Play. Furthermore, McDonald now holds the most Tony Award wins for any actor in the competitive categories.

Breaking the House Box Office Record

In the week ending September 21, 2014, the show grossed $696,922 for the eight performances, which broke the Circle in the Square Theatre’s box office record for weekly gross. That means it brought in more ticket sales than any production in the theatre’s history in one week. The show recouped its capitalization of $2.6 million in early August, so these continually high sales helped the producers to reap in a significant profit. In the show’s final week ending October 5, 2014, that record got broken for a second time, as fans flocked to catch the show in its last performances. That week, the show grossed $762,599, which represented 105.49% of its gross potential. That was also the first week that the show broke 100% gross potential. Before the Tony Awards, the show was bringing in around 60 to 75 percent of its gross potential, but as the awards season began gearing up, those numbers rose to the 80 percent range. However it wasn’t until the last weeks of the run that the show began to hit record-breaking figures. Nevertheless, recoupment was certain for this show by the end of summer, as its modest budget or $2.6 million allowed for quickly entering profit-making territory.

Creative Team and Storyline

The show was directed by Lonny Price, who was behind such shows as 110 in the Shade, Master Harold and the Boys, and Urban Cowboy.Actress singer Audra McDonald red carpet event black dress It was written by Lanie Robertson, for whom this is the first Broadway credit. In addition to Tony Award winning sound design by Steve Canyon Kennedy, the show had lighting design by Robert Wierzel, costume design by ESosa, scenic design by James Noone, and music arrangements and orchestrations by Tim Weil. The story is set in 1959 as Billie Holiday sings one of her final public appearances at the Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Audra McDonald performs alongside pianist Shelton Becton playing Holiday’s accompanist Jimmy Powers, along with a dog named Roxie who plays Holiday’s dog Pepi. She sings some of Holiday’s beloved tunes including “When a Woman Loves a Man,” “Baby Doll,” “Foolin’ Myself,” “God Bless the Child,” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.” Overall, she goes into the sadder elements of Holiday’s life, while doing justice to her magnificent voice.

“Lady Day” Recoups on Broadway

Continual Extensions, and a Financial Hit

microphoneLady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, the play with music starring Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday, has recouped its investment and will conclude its run having earned a substantial profit. Running at the modest sized Circle in the Square Theater since March 25, 2014, with its official opening on April 13, 2014, this production has been extended three times, and is now slated to run until September 21, 2014 (with a hiatus between September 1st to 7th). With a budget of $2.6 million, the play was performing only mediocrely at the box office until June, when Audra McDonald took home the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play. Since then, the show has taken in between 80 and 90% of its gross potential each week. The weekly grosses are lower than many other shows due to the small seating capacity of the theatre, but audience demand nevertheless allowed the show to enter profits.

Audra McDonald Draws in the Audiences

The critical response to the show was mixed, but reviewers unanimously lauded McDonald’s performance as Holiday at the end Actress singer Audra McDonald red carpet event black dressof her career. The plot piles in the more tragic elements of Holiday’s life, and some reviewers felt that this storytelling was contrived. However, McDonald – a favorite with theatregoers, Tony voters, and critics – was praised for her ability to tone down her magnificent voice to communicate the sadder period of Holiday’s career, and yet she still managed to convey a rich and expressive tone. The production, directed by Lonny Price, was nominated for one more Tony Award beyond McDonald’s, that for Best Sound Design of a Play (Steve Canyon Kennedy), which it did not win. The Tony committee deemed that the show was eligible for the award of Best Revival of a Play, which was controversial both because the play had never been done on Broadway, and because it is full of music. However, the committee felt it was best categorized as a play with music.

The Play’s History

Lady Day was written by Lanie Robertson with its original premiere in 1986 at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. The play also ran Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in 1986, running for 281 performances. The Broadway production, produced by Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel, was originally scheduled for a 10-week limited engagement, but awards recognition and audience support allowed the show to continually announce extensions. With many weeks now left to go, the show will conclude its run significantly in the black.

Recoupment on Broadway This Season

Several other shows have announced recoupment this season. Most recently, Of Mice and Men starring James Franco ended its run having passed the line into profits. A Raisin in the Sun starring Denzel Washington, which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play, also made back its investment, while also performing excellently both critically and in terms of awards. Furthermore, All the Way starring Bryan Cranston recouped its investment, having won the Tony Award for Best Play. Finally, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which is still running indefinitely after having won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, has already announced recoupment. This goes to show that in general, Tony Awards make a huge difference at the box office, especially for the four major awards (Best Play, Best Musical, Best Revival of a Play, and Best Revival of a Musical), as well as the Best Performance categories.