Review “Lady Day” (Mercury Theater): Alexis J. Roston IS Billie Holiday!

Tuesday, February 7, 2023 Permalink 0

Mercury Theater presents LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR AND GRILL.

Step into Venus Cabaret Theatre and take a step back in time! It’s Philadelphia 1959. The lights are dim. The seating is intimate. And Emerson’s Bar and Grill is serving up classic cocktails. Tonight’s entertainment is the extraordinary Billie Holiday (played by her doppelgänger, Alexis J. Roston). 

Playwright Lanie Robertson has imagined one of the last performances of the musical legend. ‘Lady Day’, as she was nicknamed, died tragically young at the age of 44 in 1959. Robertson uses Holiday’s nightclub act as a singing memoir. The audience not only experiences Billie’s music, they learn of her struggles with poverty, racism, men, the F.B.I., booze and heroin. It’s a very personal glimpse into her creative genius despite multiple obstacles. 

Roston was born to play Billie Holiday! She is astonishing. Her singing is reminiscent of Billie’s unique vocal stylings. The words and the melodies flow out and envelop the audience in a velvety haze. In between songs, she shares snippets of her life. The stories reflect her resilience and talent despite incredible adversity. As she drinks to remember -and forget, Roston’s vulnerability is heart-breaking. Jimmy (played by Nigel D. Robinson) cues up the orchestra to keep Billie focused on the act. At one point, Robinson is quick to get on stage to help adjust Billie’s glove. The gentle gesture says a lot about what’s going on… onstage and offstage!

The show is authentic!! This. Is. A. Billie. Holiday. Show. Roston has performed in multiple productions of LADY DAY (I was fortunate to have seen her in an earlier Chicago production). And she and Christopher Chase Carter direct the show together. Their collaborative efforts make for a genuine ‘virtual reality’ of Lady Day in concert.  I feel like I’ve seen and heard and now understand Billie Holiday. The behind-the-curtain look is a powerful tribute to the luminary.               

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

At Venus Cabaret Theatre, Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport

Written by Lanie Robertson

Directed by Christopher Chase Carter and Alexis Roston

Performances are:

Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. 

Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Thru March 26th  

For more information or tickets

Photos by Liz Lauren

For more Chicago theatre information and reviews, please visit Theatre in Chicago

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