The time is 1959, a seedy bar in Philadelphia. The audience is about to witness one of Billie Holiday’s last performances, given four months before her death. More than a dozen musical numbers — including “What a Moonlight Can Do,” “Crazy He Calls Me,” “Easy Living,” Strange Fruit,” “Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do,” and “God Bless the Child” — are interlaced with salty, often humorous, reminiscences to project a riveting portrait of the lady and her music.
“In my imagination,” says playwright Lanie Robertson, “(Billie Holiday) enters, doesn’t know where she is, sees the microphone, and knows she’s supposed to sing. Once she starts singing, the music is like an injection of heroin. By the time she finishes, she knows where she is and what she has to do.” Late in life, Holiday could still bring the house to silence.
The New York Times said, “The quiet usually held, as one of the great singers of the last century turned jazz songs and standards into searching and searing portraits of life and love gone wrong that cast a shimmering spell.”
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