Tuesday, March 22, 2016

reviews - LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR AND GRILL - Phoenix Theatre

Yolanda London
photo: Matt Chesin
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 3th.

"...Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill...is a musical play of what happened the night Billie Holiday returned to Philadelphia in 1959 to sing in a small night club.  It was just four months before her death....The events as they occur in writer Lanie Robertson’s play are imagined – it’s a ninety minute, real-time, cabaret performance – but everything spoken by Billie Holiday between the songs happened, and they’re tragic beyond comprehension...under Pasha Yamotahari’s direction is nothing short of dazzling, and it has everything to do with its leading lady, Yolanda London....The ninety minute production plays out like a genuine, performance....The way Yolanda curls her voice around those vowels and twists and turns her mouth with the phrasing of the lyrics, the squint of the nose and the smile of constant delight as she looks directly into her audience, the voice we hear is the actor’s but the style is all Billie....Yolanda can certainly sing, but she’s an exceptional actor....While the singing and the backing three-piece band lead by pianist Geibral Elisha are undeniably sublime, Robertson’s play...falters and is not without its flaws.  The jazz performer’s tales ...takes its toll and sometimes grinds a moment to an uncomfortable halt....there’s no enjoyment to be had witnessing a talent disintegrate before you....the stories of her arrest, the details of her imprisonment and the horrors of what followed, including the denial of work and Billie’s sudden moment of explosive anger when telling of these events are what will stun an audience into an awkward silence....But it’s in the songs and her singing where Billie finds her deliverance, and so does the play. ..Yolanda is now officially the jewel in the crown atop of the valley’s already considerably large pool of professional talent; hands down." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"...Lanie Robertson's drama whisks us back to 1959 to a bar in South Philadelphia where Billie Holiday is giving what will ultimately be her last performance. Phoenix Theatre's production features a mesmerizing performance by Yolanda London, who pours her heart and soul into her nuanced portrayal...Robertson's play is a bit of an odd duck—part life remembrance, part cabaret act—that also shoehorns in just about every important detail from Holiday's life in order for anyone who doesn't already know about this famous woman to have a better understanding of her and what she endured through her life. While it does tend to be overstuffed, meanders a bit, and seems a tad overlong even though it only runs 90 minutes, it is also filled with warmth and humor and some heartbreaking stories...Yolanda London gives an exquisite performance as Holiday. While I'm no Holiday expert, I am familiar with her music, and London's delivery of these songs is stellar, with impeccable phrasing and a vocal inflection that is uncanny in its resemblance. London performs each of these songs exquisitely, with both passion and pain. While her singing is impressive, it is in her storytelling that London comes even more alive with a rawness and edge to her remembrances. She is giving one of the most breathtaking performances I've seen in quite some time...Director Pasha Yamotahari doesn't make one false move. ...Joel Birch's scenic design...works well to evoke a jazz club of the 1950s...Daniel Davisson's lighting design is exquisite...Josh Lutton's stunning costumes, including a ravishing white dress for London, and Terre Steed's hair and make-up designs magically transport us back to the period. Dark, seductive, astonishing, and heartbreaking are just a few adjectives to describe London's stellar performance. While the play has a few shortcomings, London's superb take on this legendary woman is a portrayal you will not want to miss."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"Yolanda London becomes legendary songstress Billie Holiday in the superb Phoenix Theatre production of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.”  As the 90 minute show evolves, London sings through an amazing musical and dramatic evolution of Holiday in March 1959 just four months before the star’s untimely and tragic death at age 44 ...gives the audience two major treats, a stirring retrospective of Holiday’s music and singing career plus a shatteringly unbelievable view of what it was like to be a Black performer during this country’s unlawful segregation. London’s musical backup comes from a trio of piano, drums, and cello headed by Geibral Elisha on the piano as Holiday’s conductor Jimmy Powers.... “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” is both a brilliant testament to Billie Holiday while Yolanda London’s artful impersonation and lush vocalism crown this production" -Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

""...a triumph...mmersed completely in the life of iconic blues stylist Billie Holiday during a single event shortly prior to her death...Not for a moment did the performance feel like an acted script. ...Yolanda London as Billie Holiday. An attempt to describe her effect risks minimizing the show's impact....The soul that emerged as she spoke and sang evoked a reverent hush, occasionally pierced by only her own sometimes audacious and increasingly drunken remarks....The emotions wrought were whole-hearted, beautifully crafted sound....If the evening had drawbacks it was because Billie Holiday's life had such insurmountable drawbacks. ...the evening was a difficult if beautiful ceaseless, pounding litany. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" at Phoenix Theatre was a personal, intimate history lesson on display, the only genuine way to acquire and appreciate the individual impact of our nation's past. It is an important work to see, a musical wonder, and a brave testament to our Valley's breadth of creative talent." -Jennifer Haaland, Examiner.com (click here to read the complete review)

"...Phoenix Theatre’s production stars Yolanda London, one of the Valley’s finest singing actresses, and it’s a doozy of a performance. She beautifully channels Lady Day’s unique style...while slowly peeling back layers of emotion and memory as she reveals tragic moments from the singer’s past. ///gives the audience a double dose of her electric personality that’s equal parts elegance and salty irreverence. The results are an unforgettable fusion of gorgeous music and heartbreaking drama."Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

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