What a play! What a performance and what a lady.
“Billie - Backstage with Lady Day” is an intimate and revelatory evening with the Lady Day herself, as played by the brilliant Synthia L.Hardy. We encounter Billie backstage before a performance, her piano man as her sidekick, she holds court to a couple of journalists, and the audience assumes those roles for the duration. As she changes and primps for the show to come, she drinks a little and then a little more and the stories flow. Stories about her childhood, her mother, her bouts with depression and love and heartbreak, and the hardships of being a woman on the road and a black woman in any situation in America.
She spins her yarns and laughs through what most of us could barely live through and as she does, we see past the brashness and the toughness and into the heart of a gifted, bruised but not broken poet and songstress the likes of which has never been repeated.
Thanks to the genius of the director and producer Bryan Rasmussen, we are fully transported back to her time and her moment as a star, passed the worst of her drugs and booze into a happier part of her life, surrounded by people who loved her, respected her and paid her. Ms Hardy embodies Billie so beautifully and with so much warmth and life and humor. She is utterly bewitching.
The second act is a sublime jazz concert of Billie’s greatest hits, performed by Ms Hardy and accompanied by the most magnificent jazz ensemble imaginable.
The band is superb. Mark “Panther” Felton playing as Lester Young, Papa Joe Jones as Bobby Wilkerson on drums, on bass, Michael saucier as Gene Ramsey, and the Piano Man himself is played by Lanny Hartley, who supports Ms Hardy onstage throughout the performance, politely tinkering and accepting the drinks she pours him.
It’s a magical show, a gorgeous homage to all that was good and irreplaceable about Billie Holiday. It will make you cry I can guarantee it, but boy will it make you glad to know her music and to be touched by it still.
If you get the chance to see “Billie - Backstage With Lady Day” and I believe it may make another appearance next year at the Solofest, then don’t be a dope…buy a ticket and bring a friend…what a way to close 2019 Solofest!!!