Circle in the Square Theatre, (4/13/2014 - 10/05/2014)

First Preview: Mar 25, 2014
Opening Date: Apr 13, 2014
Closing Date: Oct 05, 2014
Total Previews: 20
Total Performances: 173

Category: Play, Play with music, Original, Broadway
Comments: Premiered Off-Broadway in New York at the Vineyard Theatre in 1986. Was considered a "Revival" for the purposes of the Tony nominations in 2014. "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" was on hiatus form 9/1/2014 through 9/8/2014.

Opening Night Production Staff

Theatre Owned / Operated by Circle in the Square (under the direction of Theodore Mann and Paul Libin; Susan Frankel, General Manager)

Produced by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jessica Genick, Will Trice, Ronald Frankel, Rebecca Gold, Roger Berlind, Ken Greiner, Gabrielle Palitz, Irene Gandy and GFour Productions; Associate Producer: Greenleaf Productions, Michael Crea and PJ Miller

NYC premiere production was first produced in June 1986 at the Vineyard Theatre

Written by Lanie Robertson; Music arranged by Tim Weil; Music orchestrated by Tim Weil

Directed by Lonny Price; Associate Director: Matt Cowart

Scenic Design by James Noone; Costume Design by ESosa; Lighting Design by Robert Wierzel; Sound Design by Steve Canyon Kennedy; Wig Design by J. Jared Janas and Rob Greene; Make-Up Design by Jill Oshry; Special Make-Up Effects by J. Jared Janas and Rob Greene; Associate Scenic Design: Paul DePoo; Associate Lighting Design: Paul Hackenmueller; Associate Sound Design: Walter Trarbach; Light Programmer: Hillary Knox

General Manager: Richards / Climan, Inc.; Company Manager: Daniel Hoyos

Technical Supervisor: Hudson Theatrical Associates; Production Stage Manager: Timothy Semon

Conducted by Shelton Becton; Musical Coordinator: Michael Keller; Drums: Clayton Craddock; Bass: George Farmer; Music Copyist: Kaye-Houston Music

Dialect Coach: Deborah Hecht; Press Representative: Jeffrey Richards Associates; Advertising: Serino Coyne; Interactive/Marketing: Serino Coyne; Interactive Marketing Service: Broadway's Best Shows; Animal Trainer: William Berloni; Photographer: Joan Marcus; Interactive Marketing: Andy Drachenberg

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Opening Night Cast

Audra McDonaldBillie Holiday
Shelton BectonJimmy Powers

Awards and Nominations

Tony Award®

winner 2014 Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play [winner] 

Audra McDonald

winner 2014 Best Sound Design of a Play [winner] 

Sound Design by Steve Canyon Kennedy

Drama Desk Award

winner 2014 Outstanding Actress in a Play [winner] 

Audra McDonald


I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone
(music by Buddy Johnson; lyrics by Buddy Johnson )
When a Woman Loves a Man
(music by Bernie Hanighen and Gordon Jenkins; lyrics by Johnny Mercer )
What a Little Moonlight Can Do
(music by Harry Woods; lyrics by Harry Woods )
Crazy He Calls Me
(music by Carl Sigman; lyrics by Bob Russell )
Pig Foot (And a Bottle of Beer)
(music by Wesley Wilson; lyrics by Wesley Wilson )
Baby Doll
God Bless the Child
(music by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr.; lyrics by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr. )
Foolin' Myself
(music by Jack Lawrence and Peter Tinturin; lyrics by Jack Lawrence and Peter Tinturin )
Somebody's on My Mind
(music by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr.; lyrics by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr. )
Easy Livin'
(music by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin; lyrics by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin )
Strange Fruit
(music by Abel Meeropol; lyrics by Abel Meeropol )
Blues Break
T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do
(music by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins; lyrics by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins )
Don't Explain
(music by Arthur Herzog, Jr. and Billie Holiday; lyrics by Arthur Herzog, Jr. and Billie Holiday )
What a Little Moonlight Can Do (Reprise)
(music by Harry Woods; lyrics by Harry Woods )
Deep Song
(music by George Cory and Douglas Cross; lyrics by George Cory and Douglas Cross )


AP: "Audra McDonald divinely channels Lady Day"

One of the supreme honors this Broadway season is to go to Circle in the Square, close your eyes and hear a ghost.

Five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald in her new show has somehow summoned the feisty, proud and unbowed spirit of Billie Holiday, who died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1959. If a voice has DNA, McDonald has cracked the code for Lady Day's.

In the evocative and touching "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," which opened Sunday, McDonald nails Holiday's reedy, back-of-the-throat voice and her laconic style as she performs about a dozen of Holiday's best known songs, including "God Bless the Child," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," and "Strange Fruit."

The inside of the theater has been transformed into a south Philadelphia bar, complete with special tables arranged in a semicircle on the stage itself. A three piece band, a few disco balls and simple projections of photos or musical instruments are all this incantation needs.

The 90-minute show was inspired by a concert Holiday gave in March 1959, about three months before she died. She was drinking heavily and slurred her words. Only about seven people were in the audience. Clearly, one of the world's greatest vocalists had fallen hard, a drug felon who had been imprisoned and was unable to get a cabaret license in New York.

Playwright Lanie Robertson was so moved by a friend's description of the night that he wrote "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," which has songs punctuated by Holiday sharing stories while getting increasingly sodden.

It's sad without being maudlin, a history lesson without being preachy. It's earthy and seemingly honest. Since her death, Billie Holiday, who was raped and mistreated and jailed, has become a siren for singers, her tortured life and vocals too rich too pass up. McDonald does honor to her troubled spirit.

No matter how good the acting and singing, there are a few quirks. The show comes to a halt three songs from the end when Holiday disappears into her dressing room to shoot heroin. It's the natural time for a break but this show has no intermission, so people are left a little bewildered before McDonald reappears with a little dog to end the performance.

It all starts with a jazz combo playing until McDonald shows up, her hair swept back and wearing a white Emilio Sosa strapless gown embellished with beads and long white gloves. She quickly finds a cocktail and begins her set, going from stool to the patrons' tables for a cigarette and even behind the bar to make another drink.

She banters with her piano player, played by Shelton Becton, who bravely tries to manage Holiday's unpredictability by picking songs and moving things along. Good luck with that. "I got to sing the way I feel," she tells us. The script has Holiday offer revealing monologues disguised as show patter, jokes and reminiscences. McDonald delivers with a knowing sneer.

As for the singing, it's a testament to McDonald, who has one of the strongest voices in musical theater, that she molds hers to fit Holiday's sound, whether it's in a subdued "Crazy He Calls Me" or a sassy "Baby Doll." She manages to capture that smoky, peanut-buttery, sometimes staccato delivery. It's haunting. Close your eyes and Lady Day is back.


New York Daily News: "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill"

Billie Holiday hallmarks — a gardenia (for her hair), elbow-length gloves (for hiding needle marks) and “God Bless the Child” (for her mother, always) — are bound to be included in any bio of the late great jazz singer.

On cue, each figures into Lanie Robertson’s 1986 play with music, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” But expectations are upended and exceeded the moment Audra McDonald opens her mouth. Her spellbinding tour de force turns a workmanlike show into something captivating, surprising and satisfying.

The show is set in a Philadelphia nightspot in 1959 — four months before Holiday will be gone forever. A small stage, clubby tables, three musicians, mirror balls and a bar set the scene. Holiday, in a white gown, is initially composed and weaves through the wistful “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” which begins with achy little “Ooh, ooh, ooh”s. By the time she gets to “Strange Fruit,” she’s headed to incoherence.

Between numbers, predictable memory-lane interludes arise: Lovers who did her wrong, artists who did her right, Harlem cathouses and a growing arrest record. McDonald makes it all spontaneous — even talk of her rape at age 10 and using heroin. Fortunately the sex and drug abuse come and go in passing. They’re not played out in grotesque charade-like fashion as in “Lady Day,” which ran Off-Broadway last year.

The much-decorated McDonald — five Tonys and counting — evokes the tough steel and rough velvet of Holiday’s singing with uncanny precision. But this isn’t about mimicry. It’s about the heart and soul, bruised and battered, that comes through.

This is McDonald at her most intimate. Director Lonny Price has Holiday roam the audience bumming cigarettes and drinks. The play is the story of a woman whose gift was her voice. The final moment — in dead silence — is shattering. Ooh, ooh, ooh, indeed.

New York Daily News

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