Singer Audra McDonald returns to Broadway as Billie Holiday
Actress McDonald poses for a photograph while promoting the play "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" in New York
By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Five-time Tony Award-winning singer Audra McDonald, just finishing a 30-city tour, is heading back to Broadway next week as legendary American jazz singer Billie Holiday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill."
The musical is based on one of Holiday's last performances, when she was in poor health, singing in a small, intimate Philadelphia bar before a handful of people just a month before she died in 1959.
The show debuted off-Broadway nearly 30 years ago. It begins a 10-week run at the Circle in the Square theatre with previews on March 25 and opening night on April 13.
With her sultry voice and distinctive style, Holiday is considered one of the greatest jazz singers ever. She was nicknamed "Lady Day" by saxophonist Lester Young.
"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" depicts Holiday's life through more than a dozen songs such as "God Bless the Child," "Crazy He Calls Me," "Strange Fruit" and "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," and reminiscences with the audience.
"With Billie Holiday, everybody has a close personal relationship with her music, her artistry," said McDonald, 43, who is returning to Broadway for the first time since winning a best actress Tony in 2012 for "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess."
"Everyone in a way feels like they know her because she has touched whoever listens to her," said the three-time Emmy- nominated actress, who also appeared in NBC's "The Sound of Music Live!" and had a recurring role in the TV medical drama "Private Practice."
Despite an impoverished birth and shattered childhood, Holiday's extraordinary vocal talent propelled her to stardom in a racially divided America in the 1930s and 1940s. She died a poor drug addict at the age of 44.
McDonald admits to being intimidated by playing Holiday.
"I think I'll be able to do this role for the run of the show and have researched about as much as I possibly can about her and still not ever fully, fully understand her. There are so many contradictions in her, so much life in her," she said.
TRANSPORTED BACK TO 1959
Director Lonny Price ("Master Harold ... and the Boys" and "A Class Act") worked with McDonald in the 2007 revival of the musical "110 in the Shade." They have been developing the "Lady Day" musical for more than two years.