Philadelphia Theatre Co.’s latest show brings audiences right into the action in a spirited way—literally.
‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill’ takes place in a “seedy” Philadelphia bar in 1959 where spectators get to watch the final performance of Billie Holiday. Philadelphians will be seated just a few short steps from the music and the history, with all seating for this performance on the stage. The space was transformed into Emerson’s Bar & Grill, complete with a working bar from which patrons can order cocktails to add to the experience.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to close out our season with this fantastic musical event about the life and music of the extraordinary Billie Holiday,” says PTC Co-Artistic Director Tyler Dobrowsky in a statement. “And with Jeffrey Page at the helm, fresh off his Broadway debut, and the luminous Laurin Talese playing Lady Day, this will be a production you won’t want to miss. Join us for a page right out of Philadelphia history.”
With ‘Lady Day,’ the musical legend is reimagined to perform four months before her death with more than a dozen musical numbers, including “What a Moonlight Can Do,” “Crazy He Calls Me,” “Easy Living,” “Strange Fruit,” “Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do,” and “God Bless the Child.” Peppered in between the songs, stories will be told about the Holiday’s life.
“The plot of ‘Lady Day’ weaves a seamless story of substance abuse, race, gender, and identity politics through the complexity of living with and overcoming trauma,” explains Jeffrey Page in statement.
Page continues: “The seeking of the inflicted to heal the inflictor is a culture that took an enormous toll on Billie Holiday. She sought and found freedom and eternal salvation in music. While this bar—where Billie Holiday appeared in the 1950s—has been long closed, the building still stands. Four months after the action of the play, Billie Holliday would die of cirrhosis and heart failure in a Harlem hospital.”
As mentioned before, local talent Laurin Talese will be taking on the role of Holiday, and PTC Resident Artist Jeffrey L. Page will be directing the show, which comes from Lanie Robertson with musical arrangements by Danny Holgate.
“I am excited to honor Billie’s human experience and tell her story,” said Talese in a statement. “I was drawn to this role by the prospects of working in a new artistic medium. I am always open to experiences that would expand and deepen my expression as an artist. My foundation as a vocalist is in the jazz tradition. So I was introduced to Billie Holiday’s music very early. I read one of her biographies in the sixth or seventh grade and was enthralled by her story even then. I fell in love with her innate sense of rhythm and the way she could embody a lyric.”
“I’m thrilled to work with Laurin Talese, a local giant within the music and jazz scene of Philadelphia, as she steps into the role of Lady Day,” added Page. “Laurin makes the topics of this play relevant for 2023 and finds magnificent intersections and parallels with Lady Day.”
As a release states, this immersive atmosphere came from a collaboration with Page and a team of Philadelphia-based designers to create the unique theatrical environment.
PTC will also be hosting their first student matinee performance since the onset of the pandemic, according to a release. This performance will take place on April 14, with students from Northeast High School, Lincoln High School, Kensington CAPA, West Philadelphia High School, and other Philadelphia high schools in attendance. Finally, a talkback will take place later in the run, with the exact date and time to be announced soon.
‘Lady Day’ will run April 6 to 30, with opening night on Wednesday, April 12, at 7 p.m. Seating is divided into three general admission zones, with tickets on sale now for $25 and up. All shows are performed at PTC’s home at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146. Tickets are available at philatheatreco.org, by calling 215-985-0420, or by visiting the Box Office.
Philadelphians can also connect with Philadelphia Theatre Company for the latest updates on social at @philatheatreco on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and @philatheatre on TikTok.