**** Highly recommended **** If you love jazz, and jazz singers, you don’t want to miss Alexis J. Roston in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at Mercury Theater’s Venus Cabaret. Wearing a glamorous white gown, full-length gloves and pearls, Roston, backed by a fabulous trio, brings Billie Holiday to life. By the way, watch for the darling dog later in the show! Lady Day has found a home at Venus Cabaret! 4 Big Spotlights
By the way, back in the day, jazz enthusiasts didn’t need to pay big bucks for concert tickets, they could wander into a club and hear the best. Venus Cabaret does a terrific job at recreating that ambiance complete with a bar for an adult beverage.
Billie Holiday loved the intimate ambience of a small club, and Emerson’s in Philly (Philadelphia) was a favorite. Roston nails Holiday’s emotional connection and her off-tempo delivery as she delivers fourteen jazz favorites, including “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit,” and “Easy Livin’.”
Between songs, she lets it all hang out in an intimate conversation with the audience. Holiday was influenced by Bessie Smith, although she emphasized that Smith was a blues singer and she was a jazz singer. She shared stories of touring with Count Basie and Artie Shaw (which made her one of the first black women to tour with a white orchestra). After a performance, Artie and the band would eat in the kitchen rather than eat in the dining room without her. She also shared stories of her triumphant concert at Carnegie Hall.
Holiday’s personal life was a mess – childhood abandonment, juvenile court and reform school, and rape, all before she was eleven; prostitution and prison as a teen. As an adult, she became addicted to heroin (her first love, a man her mother hated, introduced her to the stuff), and spent time in prison resulting in the loss of her cabaret card which meant she couldn’t sing in New York City clubs.
Holiday’s arranger/piano player, Jimmy (Nygel D. Robinson), tries his best to keep her on track, but even he can’t stop her when she runs offstage for a fix. Robinson is joined by percussionist, Harold Morrison on percussion and Jeff Harris on the bass.
Note: Guests are encouraged but not required to wear masks while inside the building.
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill runs through March 26h in the Venus Cabaret at the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago. Valet parking is available. Street parking is at a premium, so I suggest using a parking app.
Running time is approximately 90 minutes, no intermission. Performances are Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 & 8:00 pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm. Tickets range from $60-$70, premium tables $259-$299 (seating for 4 plus a bottle of sparkling wine). FYI www.mercurytheaterchicago.com.