By Harry Haun
22 Jun 2014
|Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva|
Both act the hell out of a lyric, pulling you into the meaning and emotions of words in a totally opposite manner — Billie Holiday in a frail, faltering little-girl wail versus Audra McDonald with her definitive, intelligent, almost operatic exactness.
Ordinarily I don't think of them in the same sentence, let alone the same show. "Well, wait till you see it," confidently countered Lonny Price, who directs McDonald's Holiday in Lanie Robertson's solo concert-cum-meltdown, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. "She has transformed herself. If you close your eyes, you're gonna think you're hearing Billie Holiday, not Audra McDonald."
By actual count, it took one word — in truth, three words ("allIknow") smeared together into one alcoholic blur — to make a case that the six-time Tony-winning actress (known to her nearly 100,000 Twitter followers as AudraEqualityMc) has indeed been able to summon forth this tragic and iconic jazz stylist.
McDonald was abundantly aware of the skepticism that preceded her taking on this role. "When most people heard I was doing this," she said, "I'm sure a lot of them thought, 'Well, what is she going to do? Sing it all an octave higher?'"
Theatrical alchemy is a little more complicated than that. It took McDonald a year and a half of intensely focusing on every tape and video of Holiday extant, endlessly watching movements and mannerisms, sometimes singing along with her.
Their connective link was their emotive abilities. "That's absolutely Billie, and so, in that sense, it's something that I understand," said McDonald, "but it's a whole new way for me because I have to do it all through Billie's eyes and through Billie's interpretation — not through Audra's, which is an entirely different thing."Continued...