REVIEW: Carnegie’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”

By Ariel MaryAnn

The Carnegie Theatre in Covington, Kentucky takes audiences back in time to Philadelphia 1957 with Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. Written by Lanie Robertson, the musical arrangements are by Danny Holgate. This one act musical follows the trials and tribulations of singer Billie Holiday (also known as Lady Day). Set at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, it celebrates the powerful music of this iconic artist. Brandi La’Sherrill brilliantly plays Billie Holiday. Dev Marvelous delivers as Jimmy. Popsicle as Pepi (the dog) appears and features direction by Darnell Pierre Benjamin. 

A Moving Theatrical Experience

By the end of the Sunday matinee performance, I was captivated. From subtle gesturing to her intonation and diction–La’Sherrill truly embodies the essence of Billie Holiday. 

Utilizing on-stage seating allows audiences to feel truly immersed in this one-of-a-kind production. Lady Day feels more like a one-woman jazz set than a “traditional play.”

Themes in Lady Day

As the show progresses La’Sherrill, as Holiday, tells stories of love, loss, addiction, and family as she looks back on her life. For much of US theatrical history, African American performers languished in an industry controlled by white booking agents. ( Lady Day calls out the reality of not being able to book the same spaces as her white counterparts. So her career had a limit as a Black artist — especially a female Black artist.

One of the many things that Holiday was known for was her struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Substance abuse, especially when involving the Black community, is usually treated like a moral failing instead of a legitimate disease. La’Sherrill finds the humanity within Holiday’s moments of vulnerability and pain. Each note sung is rich with soul and passion from the top of the show to the very end.

The Production

Dev Marvelous as Jimmy, Holiday’s pianist, is a piano playing maven. Paired with La’Sherrill – together, they’re simply unstoppable. 

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at the Carnegie
Cast of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at the Carnegie.

Darnell Pierre Benjamin’s direction shines brightly within this production. His interpretation of this piece further emphasizes Billie Holiday as an unfairly treated Black woman and Black music artist in 1950s America.  

Lady Day is a timeless show with memorable music including “Strange Fruit”–a song exploring lynching in America. I highly recommend this show for anyone who has a love of Billie Holiday and her story.

Get Tickets to Lady Day at Emersons Bar and Grill

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill runs now through August 19th at The Carnegie. Purchase your tickets here for Lady Day or the Carnegie’s other summer offerings: Guys and Dolls and Kinky Boots.