Audra McDonald brings her acclaimed portrayal of Billie Holiday in the Broadway smash “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” to HBO, with the exclusive presentation scheduled to debut Saturday, March 12, 2016.
Filmed before a live audience at Cafe Brasil in New Orleans, the special features McDonald in her history-making, tour de force performance as the jazz icon.
Originally written for off-Broadway by Lanie Roberston in 1987, the production tells Holiday’s life story through the songs that made her famous, including “God Bless the Child,”“What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Strange Fruit” and “Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness.”
McDonald made history and became Broadway’s most decorated performer when she won her sixth Tony Award, for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” in 2014. In addition to setting the record for most competitive wins by an actor, she also became the first person to receive awards in all four acting categories. The show’s run at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway was extended four times due to high demand.
“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” is directed by Lonny Price, who also directed the Broadway production, and produced by Allen Newman and Two Hands Entertainment. It was originally produced on Broadway by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jessica Genick and Will Trice.
The special will also be available on HBO NOW and HBO GO.
The network has released a first teaser which is embedded below:
When Billie Holiday sang, history attests, her audiences tended to clam up. Even in the bustling nightclubs where she mostly performed, Holiday often insisted on total quiet before she would open her mouth. The quiet usually held, as one of the great singers of the last century turned jazz songs and standards into searching, and searing, portraits of life and love gone wrong that cast a shimmering spell.
When Audra McDonald takes to the stage and pours her heart into her voice in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” a similar sustained hush settles over the Circle in the Square, where the show opened on Broadway on Sunday night for a limited run. With her plush, classically trained soprano scaled down to jazz-soloist size, Ms. McDonald sings selections from Holiday’s repertoire with sensitive musicianship and rich seams of feeling that command rapt admiration.
Although Ms. McDonald, a five-time Tony winner and an accomplished recitalist, has her own natural authority onstage, in this show, she submerges her identity in Holiday’s as an act of loving tribute to an artist whose difficult career exacted a painful price. Holiday is as well known now for the grim travails of her short life — she died at the age of 44, her voice spent, her body destroyed by addiction to alcohol and heroin — as she is revered for the legacy of recordings she left behind.
We hear much (too much) of this sorry story during the show, written by Lanie Robertson and directed by Lonny Price, and first produced Off Broadway in 1986. The year is 1959, just months before Holiday died, and the show is set at the club of the title in Philadelphia, a city that, as Holiday notes, she had reason to loathe. It was the site of her trial and conviction for drug possession, which led to a stint in prison and the revoking of her New York cabaret card, limiting her opportunities to perform in the city during the latter years of her career.