As long as this column has been going (16 years, in case anyone is counting. Anyone?), there has been no such thing as a bad review for Audra McDonald. Heck, the worst this actress usually does on Broadway is that she doesn't win a Tony but only a Tony nomination! And such was the case with her latest show, playing Billie Holiday in Lanie Robertson's play with music, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, which officially opened April 13 at the Circle in the Square.
"The much-decorated McDonald… evokes the tough steel and rough velvet of Holiday's singing with uncanny precision," observed the Daily News. "But this isn't about mimicry. It's about the heart and soul, bruised and battered, that comes through. Audra McDonald channels Billie Holiday… This is McDonald at her most intimate."
"McDonald does honor to her troubled spirit," wrote AP. "As for the singing, it's a testament to McDonald, who has one of the strongest voices in musical theater, that she molds hers to fit Holiday's sound, whether it's in a subdued 'Crazy He Calls Me' or a sassy 'Baby Doll.' She manages to capture that smoky, peanut-buttery, sometimes staccato delivery. It's haunting. Close your eyes and Lady Day is back." USA Today, meanwhile, noted, "McDonald gets to show off her comedic skills, naughtily teasing her conductor and pianist and wandering among the audience members who sit at tables incorporated into the set."
The closest to grousing came from the New York Times, which found the play itself. "Still, it's worth putting up with the show's tackier (and duller) aspects," said the paper, "for the pleasure of hearing Ms. McDonald breathe aching life into some of Holiday's greatest songs."
The limited run has been extended through Aug. 10.
A few days later, Hollywood refugees James Franco and Chris O'Dowd had their day on trial as the stars of a new Broadway revival of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men at the Longacre Theatre. The capable Anna D. Shapiro directs.
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