Directed by Rob Lindley
Music Direction by Jaret landon
Musical Arrangements by Danny Holgate
Produced by Porchlight Musical Theatre
At Stage 773, Chicago
Tour de force performance by Alexis J. Rogers fuels Billie Holiday tribute
Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s design of the Emerson’s Bar & Grill depicts a small bar in Philadelphia in 1959. It’s midnight and three jazz musicians: Jaret Landon on piano, Michael Weatherspoon on percussion and Chris Thigpen on bass are about to accompany Billie Holiday (1915 – 1959) as she sings her late night set. This performance was one of the last the jazz singer would perform as she died a few months later. Alexis J. Rogers give one of the finest performances seen on a Chicago stage in many a year!
I grew up listening to Billie Holiday records so I am quite familiar with her unique blues-oriented distinct jazz singing style. I can state with absolute certainty that Alexis Rogers has Billie Holiday’s style down pat. Add her fabulously realistic acting deftly depicting the pain Billie suffered as she tried to blunt reality with heron and whiskey and Rogers combines her amazing channeling of Holiday’s singing style with a sting of personal stories about the horrors of her life. We hear such signature Holiday tunes such as “God Bless the Child,” “Somebody’s On My Mind” as well as “Don’t Explain” and “Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness.” With the terrific combo, Rogers’ sings the Holiday songbook with extreme emotions as we quickly get into the heart of her jazz singing infused with Bessie Smith influenced blues.
What makes this 85 minute one act work so well besides Rogers’ stylized singing of 14 songs was the stream-of-conscious stories that Holiday tells between tunes. We see how her troubled past that involved being a rape victim, prostitution, several failed marriages, and numerous acts of racial discrimination affected her. Her poor choice of lovers led her to alcoholism and drug addiction. She even spent a year in prison at the height of her career. Yet, despite or because of all those problems, Billie Holiday created an new style of singing that contained jazz motifs with strong blues emotions. Alexis Rogers delivers a most spirited and truthful performance that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. Jazz and blues fans will rejoice in hearing Rogers channel Holiday. This poignant portrayal of pain and addiction explains why Billie Holiday died so young at age 44. We are deeply affected by Holiday’s story and we are memorized by Alexis Rogers performance and we toe-tap to the smooth jazz riffs of Jaret Landon’s trio.
But we are moved to our core with the gut-wrenching numbers. This is a salty, sad, and sensational portrait of Lady Day as Billie Holiday was affectionately know. Get to Stage 773 to hear the legendary lady sing. You’ll be glad you did.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 10, 2013
For more info checkout the Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill page at theatreinchicago.com
At Stage 773, 1225 W.Belmont, Chicago, IL, call773-327-5252, www.stage773.com, tickets $39, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 85 minutes without intermission, through March 10, 2013