Author: Joe Kellerman

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (Provided by RDG Photography) Denver’s First Lady, Mary Louise Lee aka Ms. Michael Hancock, stars in this delightful evening of music. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill plays through Feb. 18th at the Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., in Aurora.  For ticket information, visit www.vintagetheatre.org., or call 303-856-7830.  From there, the show goes on the road and will move to the Garner Galleria Theater in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts where it plays Mondays at 7:30 p.m. from Mar. 5th through Apr. 23rd. For ticket information for the DCPA, visit www.denvercenter.org.   The show is set in 1959 at Emerson’s Bar and Grill in Philadelphia. Billie Holiday was also known by her fans as “Lady Day.” The very talented Ms. Lee is joined on stage by the equally talented Trent Hines, in the role of her pianist (Jimmy Powers.) Billie Holiday had a rough childhood and her trials continued into adulthood. Billie had great difficulty staying away from alcohol and drugs. In fact, she died from cirrhosis. Mary Louise Lee’s beautiful voice makes songs like “God Bless the Child” fill the theater with bliss. Jimmy Powers tried his best to get the singer to moderate her drinking…with no success.     By Around Town with Harriet Hunter Ford - February 2, 2018 ...

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (Provided by RDG Photography) Mary Louise Lee is back in her signature role, inhabiting the autobiography and singing the songs of jazz legend Billie Holiday. Lee previously won awards for turns in the role in 2002 for Shadow Theatre Company and in 2016 for the DCPA Theatre Company. This time, her performance is part of an unusual co-production, taking her to two Denver stages across several months. Currently, the Vintage Theatre production of Lanie Robertson’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” directed by Betty Hart, is running through Feb. 18. The show moves to the Denver Center’s Garner-Galleria Theatre on March 5 and continues Monday-night-only performances through April 23. The setting is the Philadelphia club of the title. It’s 1959 and Lady Day (Lee) is doing one of her last shows. She opens by explaining why she hates Philly, the site of her trial and conviction for drug possession, which led to time in prison and the loss of her New York cabaret card, which severely limited where she could perform. Lee’s tone veers from angry to boozy, her language from salty to obscene, as she sprinkles dialog between songs. Lady Day explains that her strength is “a blues feeling with a jazz beat.” Lee’s strength is her powerful voice, exuberant on the upbeat numbers like “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” sultry on “When A Woman Loves A Man,” and wrenching on the classic tragic protest of “Strange Fruit.” When she demonstrates her notable vocal range within a single phrase on “God Bless The Child,” or does a rousing Bessie Smith-style rendition of “Gimme A Pigfoot (And A Bottle of Beer),” she offers a winning night of cabaret-style theater. She puts across the dialog but, really, she’s about the singing. The facts of Holiday’s 44 short years are well known: Lady Day tells of the racism she confronted, particularly on the road with Artie Shaw and his band touring the South; she talks about her struggles with addiction, to both drugs and alcohol; and her dismal relationships with men and the poverty and abuse (raped at age 10!) that marked her turbulent life. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (Provided by RDG Photography) The American society that welcomed Lady Day at Carnegie Hall but barred her from using certain bathrooms still struggles with racism. As Denver’s First Lady (Mayor Michael Hancock’s wife), Mary Louise Lee reminds us that, in the era of Black Lives Matter, the fight goes on. The structure of the play suffers from a certain streamlining. The storytelling, particularly as concerns Holiday’s heroin addiction, is less pointed than Audra McDonald’s Tony-winning version on Broadway (and on HBO). Here, Act I ends abruptly and Act II never quite builds to a crescendo. Director Hart has chosen not to include one stunning bit from that earlier production, when Holiday leaves the stage for a break, then returns with one long glove dangling from her arm, revealing telltale tracks. It seems a significant omission. Trent Hines as pianist Jimmy Powers doesn’t just play; he talks with the singer, trying to keep Holiday focused even as she swigs gin from bottles on either side of the stage. At Vintage, the first couple of rows are seated at cabaret tables, setting the tone and allowing Lee to interact with the crowd. This isn’t the best example of dramatic theater in town. But the singing by a favorite Denver native carries the day. 3/4 stars  By By Joanne Ostrow Jan 25, 2018 Original Review ...

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver’s First Lady, Mary Louise Lee,  is on stage performing the life and music of jazz legend Billie Holiday. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” is based on one of Billie Holiday’s last performances in Philadelphia. The show includes many of Holiday’s hit songs interspersed with reminiscences of her troubled life. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” (credit CBS) “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” is a collaboration between the Vintage Theatre and The Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The show runs through February 18th at the Vintage Theatre. It moves to the Garner Galleria Theare on March 5th and runs on Monday nights only through April 23rd. She was a force of nature, bruised and battered by life…found freedom in her own voice. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” examines the life and music of jazz master Billie Holiday, in a way that celebrates her art without turning away from the desperation that surrounded her. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” (credit CBS) We’ve become privy to the glory of her music, as well as, the self-destruction of the artist herself. Played by Mary Louise Lee with deep conviction and stunning emotion, the show becomes shocking, and breathtaking, and heart breaking all at once. The glory of Billie’s music, the depths of her pain, it’s a show that stays with you long after you leave the theater. By CBS4’s Critic-At-Large Greg Moody Original Review ...