Acclaimed Austrian-American actress and singer SONA MACDONALD is about portray the role of Billie Holiday in a Blue Moon, a brand new play by Torsten Fischer, who also directs, and Herbert Schäfer (who alongside Vasilis Triantafillopoulos is in charge of sets and costumes). The play will pay tribute to the famous jazz singer and will not only focus on her career but also on her drug abuse and confrontation with racism.
Aside from MacDonald as Billie Holiday, it also stars Nikolaus Okonkwo in various roles. Christian Frank will serve as musical director/pianist and accompany the many Billie Holiday classics in the show. Herbert Berger will be on clarinet, saxophone and flute, Andy Mayerl on counterbass and Klaus Pérez-Salado on drums.
MacDonald attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Between classic stage roles in Berlin and Vienna, she has played leading roles in a wide range of musicals (Les Misérables, A Chorus Line, Cyrano, My Fair Lady, Kiss Me, Kate, Chicago) and appeared in a number of concerts. She has often been cast for parts in the works of Kurt Weill like The Threepenny Opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and The Seven Deadly Sins.
Despite her busy rehearsal schedule, the renowned actress took time to talk to Musical Theatre Review’s Ludovico Lucchesi Palli about the play, Billie Holiday and her career so far.
The opening night of your new production Blue Moon is just around the corner. How did this project come about?
Torsten Fischer, the director, had the idea. He has always adored Billie Holiday. He and Herbert Schäfer have conceived and written an amazing homage.
What is your connection to Billie Holiday? Is this a dream role for you?
Actually every really exciting role in my life was never what I dreamed of playing. Directors have been the imaginative ones to dream up roles for me and I am in a great place right now. On each day of rehearsal I am connecting with both my father’s childhood in South Carolina on a tobacco farm and my own experience of growing up in the States. This evening will bring to light what Billie Holiday dealt with: racial discrimination and her plight with the law because of her drug use. She shines in song and she sings away her pain.
Besides your numerous stage roles in plays at the Theater in der Josefstadt, you have appeared in lots of musicals such as Les Misérables. In Blue Moon there is a lot of singing too, but it’s not a musical. Is singing as part of a play more difficult than singing in a musical?
Singing is acting with music!! That is my credo and motto. Always believe in the words you are singing!
You have also played the role of Marlene Dietrich in Spatz und Engel and now you’re playing Billie Holiday. What are the ups and downs of playing roles like this rather than fictional characters?
The great upside is the fact that trying to copy a legend doesn’t come into question. You try to capture the essence and the nature of these great women as you perceive them with the help of literature and film and the interviews from people who knew them. It is an honour to portray them and hold the torch of recognition for what they stand for.
As an ensemble member of the Theater in der Josefstadt you get to play lots of different roles. What have been your highlights so far and are there any dream roles you’d like to pursue?
Right now I am playing dream roles I never dreamt of playing, including Strindberg’s Fräulein Julie. Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire is a character that interests me too, she is haunted by trying to find love.
* Blue Moon opens on 26 November and continues in rep until May 2016 at the Kammerspiele der Josefstadt.