Audra McDonald on Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill in the West End

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Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Picture: Evgenia Eliseeva

Following a record-breaking, sold-out Broadway run, six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will make her West End debut at Wyndham’s Theatre this summer, portraying singer Billie Holiday in the one-woman show Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

Musical Theatre Review was invited to a special launch event of the production, where McDonald – recently given five stars from this site for her concert at the Leicester Square Theatre – was interviewed about the much-anticipated show.

McDonald revealed that when first approached about Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, she said: “No, because it’s Billie Holiday and I don’t sound like Billie Holiday at all; I’m a soprano. It’s a one woman show – it’s just her on that stage for almost an hour and a half, I didn’t think I could do that.

“With the gracious help of Jeffrey Richards, I was able to just sit in tiny, little rehearsal spaces over the course of almost a year and a half to explore and see if I could do this. At the end of that year and a half, I did a read-through performance for Jeffrey and some of his friends. As soon as I walked off I thought: ‘This is not going to happen,’ but he walked backstage and said: ‘We’ve got it, we’re going!’ It really was a long journey.”

McDonald was due to star in the West End transfer of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill last summer, but the run was postponed when the actress and singer announced that she was expecting a baby. When asked what her life was like offstage the actress said: “My life is chaos. It’s just chaos. But I’ve accepted that’s my life.”

Not afraid of being politically active, McDonald was asked how she would respond to people who might say ‘just do your work and leave the rest behind’. McDonald responded: “I don’t see how one can, especially where we are with the state of the world right now. Maybe it’s because my parents were always very involved with the civil rights movement, so I was raised with the idea that you have to speak out.”

She added: “Billie Holiday going through what she went through, Lena Horne and the racism she dealt with, Ella Fitzgerald, Diahann Carroll, all of those women, they blew and busted down doors to make it easier for people like me to walk through. If they hadn’t done the hard work I wouldn’t be where I am today”.

Polly Sisley

  • Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill runs at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre from 17 June to 9 September. Tickets are available HERE.

Readers may also be interested in:

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill – Circle in the Square Theatre, New York – Review.

Audra McDonald – Leicester Square Theatre – Review.

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