Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill by Lanie Robertson is a lyrical and dramatic look at legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday.
It’s hitting several stages in Chemainus and Crofton later this month, starting Nov. 27.
Starring Glaucia Desrochers as Billie and directed by Michelle Tremblay, this show also features musicians Karel Roessingh on piano, Nick Mintenko on drums and Ron Joiner on bass.
“It’s a very entertaining show,” said Tremblay. “We have a talented singer/actor and some beautiful musicians. The quality of the music is already very high and to have this level of performers makes it even better,” she said.
Desrochers is well-known around the Valley as a fine singer but this is her first foray into action, according to Tremblay.
“It’s been a lot of work to do the theatrical part of it because the acting part of Billie Holliday is a challenge. Billie has a special way of talking, a melody and a tempo, and then we also had to study how she moved, how she portrayed herself on stage.”
The autobiographical script contains plenty of humour but also presents plenty of challenges because it’s Holiday telling a lot of her own, sometimes grim story.
Right from the start, there was the extreme difficulty of finding a performer who can both act and sing the part, according to Tremblay.
“My big job as a director has been to make this piece work for her as an actor,” she said. “It was hard to find someone who could be Billie Holiday. We were lucky. She’s got talent and she’s working hard, really applying herself to it. The piece is tremendous, the way it is written. The emotional stakes are always high all the time and even though it’s written with a lot of humour you need to consider her whole life.
“It’s not necessarily an easy vehicle for a person who’s acting for the first time in her life but she’s doing really well.”
Tremblay said that, as a director, she’s been going with her star’s strengths.
“We’re using what she offers; she’s naturally already bringing herself to the stage. We’re using her to portray this beautiful character of Billie. It’s coming along well. She’s open to everything. And, the way it’s written it has a lot of layers but it’s humoristic, too.”
That helps to carry the show through its darker portions, according to Tremblay.
“Billie Holiday suffered a lot of pain in her life, and it comes up in her songs. She uses her singing to overcome feelings of inadequacy and not being treated well. Of course when you look back to the ’50s, that’s how it was then. There are themes of self-worth and survival. Billie’s always looking for love but her love stories always end sadly. I’m hoping this will trigger emotion in the audience. These are things we will all recognize. That’s why I was interested in the piece. I love the songs; they always trigger a lot of emotions and images. Hopefully with such a beautiful singer to play the part, we will be able to bring it alive for the audience,” she said.
The play itself is set in Philadelphia in early 1959, where Holiday is performing in a backstreet bar only a few months before death in July of that year at the age of only 44. The audiences will hear a variety of famous songs, including What a Little Moonlight Can Do and God Bless the Child.
There are six shows only so get those tickets now.
You can see Lady Day at 7 p.m. Nov. 27 and 28, at Chemainus Gardens, 3042 River Rd. Your $25 admission includes appetizers but there is also a cash bar. Then there’s a 2 p.m. show at the Crofton Pub Nov. 29 where entry is $20 per person. Next, you get a chance to see it Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. at St. Michael’s Church Hall in Chemainus where $20 gets you in and gives you desserts, coffee and tea.
The run winds up with two 8 p.m shows at the Crofton Pub Dec. 4 and 5 where admission costs $25 per person.
Get your advance tickets from Cardino Shoes and Baan-Do’s in Duncan, the Crofton Hotel, or Chemainus Foods or Chemainus Gardens. For advance purchases of seats at the Crofton Pub call 250-324-2245.