CD Review: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill

CD Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

How much you enjoy this album depends very much you enjoy the very last phase of jazz legend Billie Holliday’s career. Her voice became very weathered, but more expressive than ever. Her interpretations of her songs became more heartbreakingly honest than ever. Not the rich-toned singer of years before, perhaps, but still an overpowering interpretive talent. And Audra McDonald absolutely nails everything about that voice. This two-CD set also includes the scenes from the show, which features a lot of harrowing life stories, detailing how that voice came to be so weathered. Intense stuff, but finally rewarding, especially in this format.

To purchase, click here.

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Review: Pageant

Pageant

Not knowing the history of the musical comedy Pageant, when I first heard about it I thought it was about drag pageants, like the 2008 documentary of the same name. But no, Pageant was a Off-Broadway hit in the early 1990s, essentially an ordinary, kinda low-rent beauty pageant in which the female contestants are all played by men. Judging by the current revival, the show is a charming, featherweight bit of fun, without much serious to say about gender: an irreverent but essentially innocent tribute to kitschy Americana. Which is just fine as far as I’m concerned.

This is the Miss Glamouresse competition, a televised event sponsored by “Glamouresse Cosmetics”, makers of Smooth-as-Marble Facial Spackle and other similarly absurd products. There’s a tiny bit of audience participation, in that a panel of judges is selected from the audience; this is handled pretty painlessly and involves little more than giving the “contestants” a numbered score from 1-10. These judges choose between contestants who represent different areas of the United States – much of the evening’s humor comes from caricaturing regional variations on the pageant-queen stereotype.

Our host is the sweetly smarmy Frankie Cavalier (played with great relish by John Bolton), and the troupe of “ladies” are all in some way genuinely appealing – the sharpest barbs are reserved for the inherent sadism and cynicism of pageants themselves. Costume designer Stephen Yearick’s creations successfully tread a fine line between satire and glimpses of genuine glamour.

The humor in Pageant doesn’t cut very deep, and tends towards obvious truisms. That said, the show is cute in a kittenish kind of way, and just as hard to dislike as it is to take seriously.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

News: I’m directing a new R&B musical

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I’m directing the new musical Me & Caesar Lee by Pat Holley, set in the world of 1980s R&B. A 43 year old former pop diva hopes to make a comeback by writing songs for a teen age singing group. Infatuated with the group and deeply infatuated with their 22 year old manager, she journeys through the resulting heartaches and betrayals, leading her to confront the haunting legacy of her mother’s suicide and her own desire to live. The cast includes Robyn Payne (The Lion King, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Kismet @ Encores!), Two-time Tony nominee Ernestine Jackson (Raisin, Guys & Dolls), Raun Ruffin (The Civil War, Randy Newman’s Faust), up-and-coming R&B singer Amanda Holley, Nick Mara (“America’s Best Dance Crew”), Joshua Scarlett and Sadat Waddy. For tickets, click here.

For more about Jonathan Warman’s directing,  see jonathanwarman.com.