It’s 1956. Billie Holiday has had quite a career—national tours, limousines, performing at Carnegie Hall. But it’s still the 50s and we still have milkshakes and, unfortunately, segregation too. Here towards the end of her career, Lady Day performs at one of her old stomping grounds. She croons just like it was the old days and gets nostalgic in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
An Intimate Performance at the Mercury Theater
We enter the Venus Cabaret Theater within the Mercury and are greeted by blue and purple mood lighting and candle lit tables. The bar menu is on the back of the program and the room slowly fills. Champagne buckets sit at tables awaiting their guests. The bartender is mixing up classics like Aviations, Old Fashioneds, and Billie’s favorite drink, The Stinger.
Only three instruments surround the stage— a piano, a drum kit, and a bass. It feels like we’re part of a select few to be treated to this intimate performance, heightening the mood and making it feel like we’re waiting for the real Billie Holiday to come on stage.
Then, the door to the club bursts open and there she is. Wearing a large, white fur coat, oversized sunglasses, and accompanied by a man and a dog, it’s the Lady Day herself. She also brings with her the air of a star and takes the stage resplendent in a white gown and sparkling jewels.
The Story of a Lifetime
In between her singing her classic hits, Billie, played by Alexis J. Roston, walks into the crowd, smiling. She jokes with the bartender and audience members, all the while reminiscing about her life and career. As much as Billie tries to keep her stories light, there’s always a dark lining around them. She can be an in-demand star singing to sold-out crowds at Carnegie Hall ,and yet she still has to enter through the back because she’s not white.
Slowly, the mood turns as Miss Day finds herself slipping further out of a light mood. As she sings the last bars of her final song, a spotlight hits her from behind and we’re left with this feeling of appreciation for her talent but sadness at everything she’s had to endure.
For those who are fans of Billie Holiday, you’ll be thrilled at how Rosten captures her voice and charm. If you’re not usually a Billie fan, you might also like this if you’re interested in finding more about her and enjoying a night out listening to some jazz.
January 27 - March 26, 2023
Sundays - 3 pm
Fridays - 8 pm
Saturdays - 3 pm and 8 pm
Venus Cabaret Theater at Mercury Theater Chicago
3745 N. Southport Avenue
About the Author: Alexis Bugajski
Alexis is a theater reviewer, travel bug, media specialist, and burger & beer enthusiast. During the day she works in the advertising business as a senior communications designer. When night falls, or when she can escape to New York, she’s hitting the theaters to see as many shows as she can. And whenever she’s not at her desk or in the audience, she’s out seeking the best burger and beer offerings in Chicago.
Editor's Note: Click here to read more Picture this Post articles by Alexis Bugajski