Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t the slightest bit skeptical when I heard that Audra McDonald had been cast as Billie Holiday in the Broadway premiere of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

While the five-time Tony Award winner is unarguably a living stage legend and colossal talent, McDonald is a Juilliard-trained soprano whose many opera credits made me wonder if she could reel her enormous voice in to pull off the husky and distinct sound of Lady Day. Surely, the same person whose chill-inducing rendition of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess made all previous interpretations of that classic song sound inferior, and whose “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” had musical theater fans everywhere clamoring for a Mother Abbess Live! spinoff, couldn’t also match the velvety and fragile nuances that made up Holiday’s iconic voice.

But the second that McDonald stepped on the stage and started singing the opening notes of “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone,” any and all doubts turned into open-jawed awe. Not only did she sound exactly like the late jazz singer, but her deeply passionate delivery allowed for Holiday’s soul to shine through McDonald’s performance, almost as if she was channeling her from the grave.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

“My grandmother had a speaking voice very similar to Billie Holiday’s speaking voice and I used to imitate my grandmother,” McDonald recently told while explaining how she perfected her uncanny impression. “So I’ve been using that as my jumping off point – Nana’s voice – and that sort of helped me find it. I just start like I’m imitating my grandmother and then I go to Billie Holiday from there.”

Set in a small bar in South Philadelphia in March of 1959, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill takes place just four months before the 44-year-old Holiday died of cirrhosis and heart failure. The play alternates between performances of some of Holiday’s most revered songs – like “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” and “Foolin’ Myself” – and autobiographical monologues that paint a heartbreaking, astounding portrait of a woman, who even past her prime, was one of the most gifted and influential musicians of the twentieth century.

Playwright Lanie Robertson was inspired to write the show after a former boyfriend of hers saw one of Holiday’s final performances at a Philadelphia dive bar. “He said she stumbled in obviously ‘quite high,’ carrying her little Chihuahua Pepi, whom she introduced to her audience. A water glass was kept filled with booze atop the piano for her. She and a piano player performed ten or 12 of her songs for an audience of seven patrons. Then, he said, she staggered out,” Robertson wrote in the show’s Playbill. “That image of the world’s greatest jazz singer being so undervalued at the end of her life and career was an image that has always haunted me. Writing Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill was an attempt to rid myself of that ghost.”

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

Similarly to how the current Broadway revival of Cabaret turned theater venue Studio 54 into the Kit Kat Klub, the Circle in the Square Theatre transformed itself into Emerson’s Bar & Grill for the limited duration of Lady Day. Upon entering, audience members immediately get the sense that they’re at a jazz nightclub rather than at a Broadway theater. The floor is covered with little bar tables, from which ticketholders are able to order drinks from the wait staff, and atop a small bandstand is a trio of musicians (including the incredible Shelton Becton on piano) who accompany McDonald when she steps behind her standing microphone.

This intimate staging allows for McDonald to frequently interact with her audience – whether it’s to help her down from the tiny stage so she can refill her glass of gin or simply to light her cigarette. And when she ultimately drinks so much that she falls over, theatergoers sitting close enough can’t help but extend their arms to try to help her up.

Throughout her tumultuous life, Holiday struggled greatly with alcohol and heroin. Wearing elbow-length white gloves to cover her track marks, McDonald’s Holiday drinks consistently throughout the show. As she becomes less and less lucid, she finds it increasingly difficult to connect to her music, often times starting to sing songs that she decides not to finish. After all, Holiday prided herself on performing the songs that she was feeling, not just the ones that her fans wanted to hear. To her, it was more important to have a song find her than to try to force a dishonest emotion while performing.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

It’s that unwavering dedication to her craft that McDonald captures so spectacularly. When she sings “God Bless the Child,” a song Holiday wrote about her mother, it’s impossible not to feel the rawness and vulnerability behind the beloved lyrics. And when she sings the harrowing “Strange Fruit,” a protest song about racial violence in the South, the sorrow and sense of urgency that McDonald evokes is sure to knock the wind out of those listening.

This groundbreaking character exploration propels the show into a true performance of a lifetime for McDonald – which is saying a lot considering she’s already received so many accolades. In fact, McDonald received her eighth Tony Award nomination for this role. If she takes home her sixth statue come the ceremony on June 8th, not only will she have won for every possible performance category, but she’ll also be the recipient of more Tonys than any other actor in Broadway history. It’s no wonder, then, that The New Yorker called her work in Lady Day, “one of the greatest performances I ever hope to see.”

While the show certainly doesn’t shy away from addressing the darker aspects of Holiday’s life (being raped at 10, racism, failed marriages, and, obviously, addiction), it still manages to act as a beautiful tribute to the jazz star. It portrays Holiday as a deeply emotive individual who harnessed her experiences through her art, but was ultimately not able to protect herself from the reality of her world – the same tragic fate that would later await musicians like Judy Garland, Whitney Houston, and Amy Winehouse.

At one point during Lady Day, McDonald says that the DJs on the radio have started to refer to Holiday as “Lady Yesterday” due to her fading star power. Yet in the show’s final moments, the spotlight zeroes in on just McDonald’s face, who continues to sing her heart out, but without any sound. All that’s left in the silence is a moving homage to a woman whose greatest love was her music. With that, her legacy is honored in a way that’ll leave her immortalized in the hearts of every audience member lucky enough to snag a ticket.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

This strictly limited engagement of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre in New York through August 10th—get tickets here

Originally published on PopBytes



Sam Smith is pulling out all the stops to give fans a taste of what they can look forward to in his upcoming album, In The Lonely Hour, with the video for “Leave Your Lover,” the record’s third single.

Co-starring English model Daisy Lowe, the video shines a spotlight on a love triangle and the harrowing pain of unrequited love—a theme that will be featured heavily on his album. Throughout the moody clip, the trio of friends all share flirtations and it’s a little bit unclear which of the two men will ultimately get the girl.

But then there’s a brilliant twist: as the video progresses, the relationships start to unravel. And taking a page out of the Frank Ocean guide to album promo, Smith reveals that the object of his affection is actually another man.

“Pack up and leave everything/Don’t you see what I can bring/Can’t keep this beating heart at bay/Set my midnight terror free, I will give you all of me/Leave your lover, leave him for me,” Smith hauntingly croons while hoping that the man chooses him over his boyfriend.

While Smith has yet to publicly discuss his sexual orientation, it has long been the subject of gossip across the Web: A few weeks ago, he denied rumors that he was dating Lowe: “No, she’s not [my girlfriend]. Daisy is one of my closest friends at the moment. ”

Whether or not “Leave Your Lover” is an official coming-out statement, it’s a gorgeous song with an incredibly moving music video. We can’t wait for In The Lonely Hour to drop Stateside on June 17.

Originally published on NewNowNext



Last night, ABC wrapped up the (significantly improved) third season of Revenge with a jaw-dropping finale that was packed with game-changing revelations, a generous amount of bloodshed, the father of all twists, and at long last, Emily’s ultimate revenge against the evil Graysons.

Here’s what you need to know about the Revenge finale (obviously, this list contains spoilers, so don’t continue reading if you care about that sort of thing):

Victoria kills Aiden


A couple of episodes ago, we saw Conrad (Henry Czerny) go into full hulk mode when he brutally killed Pascal LeMarchal (guest star Olivier Martinez). But as we already know, he’s not the only Grayson willing to get his hands dirty when push comes to shove (and in his case, we mean that literally). A grief-stricken Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) wants to “level the playing field” by taking away Emily’s (Emily VanCamp) chance for true love – the same fate that she (falsely) believes Emily bestowed upon her by being an accomplice to Pascal’s murder. Therefore, Victoria drugs Aiden’s tea (because how else do you take down a Brit?), causing him to be paralyzed and incapable to fight her off when she suffocates him to death with a pillow. But like a true sociopath, good ol’ Lady Grayson is just getting started – she leaves Aiden’s lifeless body sitting up in Emily’s house, morbidly waiting for her to come home and find what Victoria later refers to as “the gift” in her former daughter-in-law’s living room. Whoever said you can’t discreetly carry/hide corpses in a sensible pair of stilettos?

And fans of actor Barry Sloane need not worry – he’ll be returning to your TV this fall in ABC’s newly picked up alien invasion series, The Whispers, from Executive Producer Steven Spielberg.

David Clarke’s conviction is overturned


Last week, Conrad was caught on video admitting to a list of crimes so long that he might as well as change his last name to Giudice. As a result, the David Clarke trial is reopened and Emily gets her longstanding wish of seeing her father’s name cleared of all the charges that had the world previously label him as a terrorist.

The best part? She learns of this by watching a news segment read by Jay Jackson, also known as Parks and Recreation’s resident anchor, Perd Hapley (imagine THAT crossover)! But, of course, as this is Revenge, don’t start pouring the celebratory champagne just yet …

Victoria figures out Emily’s real identity


She’s long been suspicious of the girl next door, and last night, Victoria finally figured out the whole truth: Emily Thorne is really Amanda Clarke, seeking revenge against those who wrongfully put her father behind bars. The duo face off in a cemetery, where Emily is digging up Amanda’s grave (THE SYMBOLISM OF IT ALL) and Victoria spills all of her recent discoveries. Unfortunately for Satan’s Hamptons ambassador, Emily is no longer interested in subtlety and instead decides to knock Victoria out by hitting her ACROSS THE HEAD with a SHOVEL, displaying a level of bad-assery that hasn’t been seen in a graveyard since Buffy’s patrolling days.

Daniel is photographed in bed with a dead prostitute


After Margaux (Karine Vanasse) appoints Daniel (Josh Bowman) second in command of Pascal’s empire, her accentless brother Gideon (Daniel Zovatto) arrives on the scene to (you guessed it!) exact revenge on those who stripped him of the title he believes he earned at his father’s company. Of course, he and Daniel are old friends, so after they catch up over some absinth (those pesky French!), Gideon’s true colors are revealed. He pays his debt to a prostitute in cocaine, who just so happens to overdose in Daniel’s bed, providing Gideon with the perfect blackmail to use against Daniel in season four. And given how much of a vindictive and trigger-happy douche Daniel has turned into this season, it’s only fitting that Conrad and Victoria aren’t the only Graysons discovering the power of karma.

Charlotte turns Jack in for kidnapping her


Jack Porter (Nick Wechsler) is hardly at the top of the list of characters on Revenge who deserve jail time. However, when he touches Charlotte’s (Christa B. Allen) shoulder in a way that triggers her post-abduction PTSD, the personality devoid Grayson / Clarke hybrid immediately realizes that her friend was involved in her kidnapping. But the real crime here? Locking away the most attractive man on primetime television without even a SINGLE shirtless scene to hold us over until the fall. Not cool, Revenge writers. Not cool at all.

Conrad is murdered … BY DAVID CLARKE!!!


Because he’s the infamous patriarch of the Grayson clan, Conrad is smugly pleased with himself when he thinks he’s figured out a way to escape from jail. Little does he know that hot on his trails is none other than the man whose “death” served as the catalyst for this entire series … David Clarke (James Tupper)! I repeat, THIS IS NOT A DRILL: DAVID CLARKE IS ALIVE and GUESS WHAT! He wants revenge too! Revealing a new buzz cut that proves he’s not fucking around, David stabs Conrad to death, leaving him to bleed out in the middle of a dark road before ominously driving away from the scene of the crime.

But if David really is alive, where has he been hiding all these years? What has been doing? And if he’s been watching the Graysons this whole time waiting for the right moment to attack, why has he allowed his beloved daughter to risk her life avenging him? While his shocking return certainly doesn’t qualify for any Parent of the Year awards, it’s certainly a major twist that will clearly play a central role next season.

Emily checks Victoria into a mental hospital


Emily (or can we start calling her Amanda now?) puts her finishing touches on her plot to destroy her father’s former love interest. After their rendezvous at the cemetery, Victoria wakes up in a psychiatric hospital with Emily seated by her side. As she starts to scream for help and that Emily is an imposter, Victoria is shocked to find that her previous confidante, Dr. Michelle Banks (Amy Landecker) has turned against her. Emily and Dr. Banks explain to one of the hospital’s doctors that Victoria has fallen completely off the deep end, and has developed a sick fixation with Amanda Clarke that caused her to go so far as to try to dig up her grave and obsess over unfounded conspiracy theories that Emily is really Amanda. Victoria shrieks and shrieks until she’s sedated, leaving viewers with the final image of Emily walking away with her mission accomplished.

But at what expense(s) did Emily achieve her vengeance? And with her father still being alive, was it all worth it? Find out when season four of Revenge premieres this fall on ABC.

Originally published on PopBytes



Hercules and Love Affair have been teasing us for a while now: With The Feast of the Broken Heart dropping on May 26, DJ Andy Butler’s collaborative disco-house project has released “I Try To Talk To You,” a follow-up to the album’s superb lead single, “Do You Feel The Same?”

A joint effort with gay singer/songwriter John Grant, the hauntingly beautiful track recounts how Grant, a 2014 Brit Award nominee, learned how he was HIV-positive. “I asked John to dig deep with his lyrical contribution [but] I had no idea he would dig so deep,” says Butler. “He tackled the story of becoming HIV-positive, and while I mentioned to him that he did not need to go there if he was not comfortable, in that beautifully punky, spirited and courageous way he has about him, he told me that was what the song was going to be about. What came of it is an elegant song featuring John singing and playing his heart out.”

Despite its serious subject matter, “I Try To Talk To You” is a shimmery dance track— complete with Hercules and Love Affair’s signature throwback house sound and Grant’s lush vocals.

Yesterday, the song’s accompanying music video premiered. Directed by David Wilson, the clip depicts two strapping men in a lovers’ quarrel – all told through interpretive dance. They push away from and pull towards each other in powerful, affectionate, and passionate ways, acrobatically complimenting the evocative lighting and intimate lyrics.

In addition to “I Try To Talk To You,” Grant will also be lending his vocals to The Feast of the Broken Heart track, “Liberty.” Butler and Grant have collaborated for years, resulting in several live performances together and a phenomenal Hercules and The Love Affair remix of “Black Belt” – one of several standouts on Grant’s 2013 masterpiece, Pale Green Ghosts.

Check out the video for “I Try To Talk To You” below.

Originally published on NewNowNext