Five time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will once again grace the Broadway stage this spring to play Billie Holiday in the musical production Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, as announced by the show’s producers. Performances are scheduled to begin March 25, with an opening date set for April 13. The limited engagement will run for 10 weeks, playing approximately 70 performances.
The show was originally in the works for the 2014-2015 theater season, but was offered the Circle in the Square theater after the quick closing of Bronx Bombers. Circle in the Square will be decorated to resemble a nightclub, with some of the show’s audience members being seated at tables onstage.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is produced by Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel. As McDonald shared in a telephone interview with The New York Times, “It’s about a woman trying to get through a concert performance, which I know something about, and she’s doing it at a time when her liver was pickled and she was still doing heroin regularly.”
McDonald will perform 18 numbers to include “God Bless the Child (a song she used to perform in high school and at Juilliard), “Strange Fruit,” “Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness,” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”
“I might have been a little judgmental about Billie Holiday early on in my life, but what I’ve come to admire most about her — and what is fascinating in this show — is that there is never any self-pity,” McDonald shared. “She’s almost laughing at how horrible her life has been. I don’t think she sees herself as a victim. And she feels an incredible connection to her music — she can’t sing a song if she doesn’t have some emotional connection to it, which I really understand. One wonderful thing for me is there are tons of recordings of Billie that I’ve been listening to and watching, even audio of her talking about certain songs,” McDonald said. “So I have a lot to draw on.”
McDonald was most recently seen on Broadway in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess where she also played an addict. Another project in the works for the star may include a revival of Night, Mother for the 2015-2016 season starring opposite Oprah Winfrey, though no official announcement has been made.