REVIEW: “Lady Day” Sings the Blues at Carnegie

"Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill" is highly recommended. It is sharp, sensitive, biting, uncomfortable, moving, and entertaining... It is music and performance as its finest and is not to be missed.

By Katrina Reynolds

Head over to The Carnegie to spend a short evening (90 mins total, no intermission) with Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Book by Lanie Robertson with musical arrangements by Danny Holgate. Director Darnell Pierre Benjamin hits another one out of the park with this atypical jukebox musical about the lauded jazz singer. No matter what your level of familiarity with the musical career of Billie Holiday, it would serve you well to see this show.

Lady Day takes place in a run-down bar in South Philadelphia circa March 1959. Billie Holiday’s death comes in July of that same year, so the audience is a guest at one of her last performances. Audra McDonald took on the role in theatre and film between 2014 and 2016 and won much critical acclaim for it. This reviewer is pleased to share that Cincinnati’s own Brandi La’Sherrill gives a performance by which not only Ms. McDonald would be impressed, but properly pays homage to the late, great Lady Day. But first: let’s talk tech.

Production Team for Lady Day

Benjamin excels as usual in his casting and production team decisions. He is also adept in setting the ever-changing mood of this bluesy piece. Costume Designer and local legend Daryl Harris serves us a stunning and detailed look for what is portrayed as one of Ms. Holiday’s last performances. The choice of a white dress is not only beautiful, but smart as it adds to aesthetic choices by Lighting Designer Ashton Karp – which can only be described as creative and effective. 

Performances Exceed Expectations

In the role of Jimmy, Lady Day’s accompanist and wrangler (no spoilers), Dev Marvelous is a force with which to be reckoned! His character may seem to be a quiet, unassuming person but Mr. Marvelous’ hands at the piano are anything but! Mr. Marvelous is a seasoned and talented musician in addition to playing a gentle soul with a lot on his plate. Jimmy is not an easy role, but he exceeds expectations.

Now back to Ms. La’Sherrill: my goodness! In her bio, this artist describes herself as a storyteller, but this is a small word for the outcome we get to witness on stage. From her first breath, the audience is transported back to 1959 in that dingy club. We are being entertained by some reincarnation of Lady Day herself. Ms. La’Sherrill’s embodiment of the character is a privilege to behold. She captures Ms. Holiday’s very distinctive voice, both in octave and emotion. In the small stories that pepper the evening of song, Lady Day shares with us “singing is life.” Ms. La’Sherrill’s portrayal of the chanteuse makes that evident. While the evening starts off strongly, our leading lady becomes increasingly vulnerable as she tells her story. You will be hanging onto every word.

Bottom Line

In summary, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is highly recommended. It is sharp, sensitive, biting, uncomfortable, moving, and entertaining. I immediately texted my husband afterward and told him he needs to go. It is music and performance as its finest and is not to be missed.

Purchase Tickets for Lady Day

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill runs through August 20 at The Carnegie in Covington, KY. It is in rotation with Guys and Dolls and Kinky Boots. Tickets for all of the shows can be purchased here.

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