(PHILADELPHIA, PA) -- Audiences are invited to step back in time to a seedy Philadelphia bar in 1959 for the final performance of jazz icon Billie Holiday. Philadelphia Theatre Company (PTC) is proud to produce Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, written by Lanie Robertson with musical arrangements by Danny Holgate. This Tony Award-winning Broadway and television play with music will be directed by PTC Resident Artist Jeffrey L. Page, fresh from his triumphant revival of 1776 on Broadway, for which he served as co-director and choreographer.
Local jazz starlet Laurin Talese will make her theatrical debut on the stage of the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, playing the role of the late, legendary chanteuse. Audiences will experience every word and note of this intimate portrait of the celebrated Lady Day up close and personal, seated just a few short steps from the music and the history. All seating for this performance will be on the stage – transformed into Emerson’s Bar & Grill, complete with a working bar from which patrons can order cocktails to add to the experience.
Lady Day will run April 6th to 30th, with opening night on Wednesday, April 12th at 7:00pm. Seating is divided into three general admission zones, with tickets on sale now for $25 and up. All shows are performed at PTC’s home at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146. Tickets are available at www.philatheatreco.org, by calling 215-985-0420, or by visiting the Box Office.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to close out our season with this fantastic musical event about the life and music of the extraordinary Billie Holiday,” says PTC Co-Artistic Director Tyler Dobrowsky. “And with Jeffrey Page at the helm, fresh off his Broadway debut, and the luminous Laurin Talese playing Lady Day, this will be a production you won’t want to miss. Join us for a page right out of Philadelphia history.”
Centering one of the greatest jazz singers of all time, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill recounts the life of Billie Holiday through the songs that made her famous. The year is 1959. The place is 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. With her expressive voice and emotional songs, the jazz great shares her loves and her losses in a staggering showcase of her talent that, unbeknownst to the audience, will be one of the last of her lifetime. Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, written by acclaimed playwright Lanie Robertson, is based on an actual performance of Holiday’s at a South Philadelphia bar in March, 1959.
“The plot of Lady Day weaves a seamless story of substance abuse, race, gender, and identity politics through the complexity of living with and overcoming trauma,” says Page. “The seeking of the inflicted to heal the inflictor is a culture that took an enormous toll on Billie Holiday. She sought and found freedom and eternal salvation in music. While this bar—where Billie Holiday appeared in the 1950s—has been long closed, the building still stands on the corner of 50th and Bainbridge. Four months after the action of the play, Billie Holliday would die of cirrhosis and heart failure in a Harlem hospital.”
Playing the music icon Billie Holiday is Laurin Talese, a Philadelphia local known for her buttery voice, charisma, and musical prowess. She recently appeared in a 6ABC special, “Looking For Lady Day,” speaking about the legacy of Billie Holiday and her relationship with the city of Philadelphia. Talese performs for international audiences and leads educational workshops to bring jazz to new populations. In 2021, Talese made her Philadelphia Orchestra debut performing repertoire, including her original composition, “This Love” conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Laurin Talese enjoys serving as Vice President of the Recording Academy’s Philadelphia Chapter, on the boards of Jazz Philadelphia, and the University of the Arts’ Alumni Council. In 2022, Laurin premiered her newest work “Museum Of Living Stories” commissioned by Chamber Music America. She will be making her theatrical debut as the tortured and talented titular role in Lady Day.
“I am excited to honor Billie’s human experience and tell her story,” said Talese. “I was drawn to this role by the prospects of working in a new artistic medium. I am always open to experiences that would expand and deepen my expression as an artist. My foundation as a vocalist is in the jazz tradition. So I was introduced to Billie Holiday's music very early. I read one of her biographies in the sixth or seventh grade and was enthralled by her story even then. I fell in love with her innate sense of rhythm and the way she could embody a lyric.”
Composer and producer Will Brock is the music director for this production, and will accompany Talese onstage as Billie Holiday's pianist Jimmy Powers. No stranger to jazz performance, Brock himself has performed around the world with Marion Meadows, Gerald Veasley, and other Jazz icons. His music has been featured on national and international TV and radio ads, and TV shows like Emeril Live, Army Wives, The Guiding Light, Studio Jams, and others. Feature films include "Cover," the 2008 thriller directed by Bill Dukes.
“I’m thrilled to work with Laurin Talese, a local giant within the music and jazz scene of Philadelphia, as she steps into the role of Lady Day,” said Page. “Laurin makes the topics of this play relevant for 2023 and finds magnificent intersections and parallels with Lady Day.”
The creative team has set out to recreate Emerson’s Bar & Grill for a truly extraordinary, immersive experience in which the audience watches the show from the stage, which will have been outfitted to mimic a seedy, South Philadelphia bar. Page will collaborate with a team of Philadelphia-based designers to create this unique theatrical environment. The team includes Barrymore winning Scenic and Lighting Designer Thom Weaver, Costume Designer Tiffany Bacon (making her PTC Debut), and Tony Award-winning Robert Kaplowitz returns to PTC as Sound Designer for this production. Angela Cucco is the Stage Manager.
PTC has also announced a series of events in conjunction with the production. In partnership with the Black Theatre Alliance of Philadelphia, Theatre in the X, and WURD, PTC will host its inaugural Black Theatre Night on April 6 at 7:00pm. This event is a free performance for the vibrant Black community of Philadelphia. It is not for sale, and is invitation only. PTC is also excited to host their first student matinee performance since the onset of the pandemic. This performance will take place on April 14, with students from Northeast High School, Lincoln High School, Kensington CAPA, West Philadelphia High School, and other Philadelphia high schools in attendance. Finally, a talkback will take place later in the run, with the exact date and time to be announced soon.
PTC extends thanks to the sponsors who have made this production, and theirseason, possible. Honorary Producers for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill are Alice L. George and Lou Oschmann. Season Sponsors include Independence Blue Cross and Center City Film & Video.
Tickets for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill are on sale now. Tickets start at $25 and are available at www.philatheatreco.org, by calling 215-985-0420, or by visiting the Box Office.
About the Cast & Creative
Laurin Talese has been captivating audiences with her pure tone and poignant lyrics since childhood. A Cleveland, Ohio native, Laurin was classically trained at the Cleveland Institute of Music, The Cleveland School of the Arts, and later received a bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her debut album, Gorgeous Chaos, produced by Emmy-winning producer Adam Blackstone and released in 2016, features a stellar lineup of musicians and was met with wide acclaim.
Laurin Talese's talents have allowed her to travel around the globe, performing in a host of internationally renowned venues including the Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center Shanghai, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in 2018 when Laurin won the seventh annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition.
Laurin Talese is proud to represent the United States as a cultural ambassador with American Music Abroad, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and implemented by the Association of American Voices. Following in the footsteps of former Ambassadors Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck, Laurin Talese performs for international audiences and leads educational workshops to bring jazz to new populations. In 2021, Talese made her Philadelphia Orchestra debut performing repertoire, including her original composition, “This Love” conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Laurin Talese enjoys serving as Vice President of the Recording Academy’s Philadelphia Chapter, on the boards of Jazz Philadelphia, and the University of the Arts’ Alumni Council. In 2022, Laurin premiered her newest work “Museum of Living Stories” commissioned by Chamber Music America.
Will Brock has performed around the world with Marion Meadows, Gerald Veasley, and other Jazz icons. His music has been featured on national and international TV and radio ads, and TV shows like Emeril Live, Army Wives, The Guiding Light, Studio Jams, and others. Feature Films include "Cover," the 2008 thriller directed by Bill Dukes.
Playwright Lanie Robertson’s first plays, The Insanity of Mary Girard and Back County Crimes are frequently performed by schools and community theatres. His play about Billie Holiday Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill was produced on Broadway and in London’s West End with Audra McDonald.
Many of his works are about iconic artists and the societal issues they faced: Nasty Little Secret (Joe Orton); Woman Before a Glass (Peggy Guggenheim); Alfred Stieglitz Loves O’Keeffe (Georgia O’Keeffe); Nobody Lonesome for Me (Hank Williams); The Gardener (Claude Monet); and Blythe Coward (Noel Coward).
His works have been produced at the Alley Theatre, the Alliance Theatre; Annenberg Center, Arena Stage, Barrington Stage, the Edinburgh Festival, Festival d’Avignon, George St. Playhouse, Kennedy Center, Old Globe, Primary Stages, Playwrights Horizons, Theatre de la Huchette, Theatre Petit Montparnasse, Theatre Silvia Montfort, Westside Arts Theatre, Vineyard Theatre, Virginia Stage, the Walnut Street Theatre, West Side Arts Theater, and Williamstown Theatre Festival.
His first novel is to be published in 2024. He is a member of the Dramatist Guild, the Society des Auteur et Compositeurs Dramatiques, and the Writers Guild, East.
Director Jeffrey L. Page is an Emmy-nominated director and choreographer. He is the co-director and choreographer of the Broadway revival of 1776, now on national tour. Page was choreographer on the Tony-nominated Broadway musical Violet. His Barrington Stage production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ earned a NYTimes Critic’s Pick and multiple Berkshire Theatre Awards. His Tokyo productions of Memphis (2015, 2018) and Jamie (2021) garnered multiple Yomiuri Award nominations, including Best Musical in Japan.
Page won an MTV Video Music Award for his work with Beyoncé, whose creative team have included him for more than 12 years. His work was featured on Beyoncé’s “The Formation World Tour,” in her historic Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival performance, and in two of her HBO specials. Page was the associate creative director for Mariah Carey’s “Sweet, Sweet Fantasy European Tour,” and has been a featured choreographer on Fox Television’s “So You Think You Can Dance.” He is the creative director for singer-songwriter Jazmine Sullivan, most recently working with her on the 2020 BET Soul Train Music Awards.
While obtaining his MFA in Theatre Directing from Columbia University, Page became the first African American to be named the Marcus Institute Fellow for Opera Directing at The Juilliard School. In 2019, he was awarded the Chuck Davis Emerging Choreographer Fellowship by the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 2021, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Muhlenberg College.
In 2016, Page established Movin’ Legacy as an Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the ethnology and documentation of contemporary and traditional dance from Africa and the African diaspora. Page received a Fulbright-Hays Program award for this research work.
Page is a lecturer in Theatre, Dance, and Media at Harvard University and the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts at The Juilliard School. He is the Artist Fellow at the American Repertory Theater and the Resident Artist at Philadelphia Theatre Company. Page’s current projects are Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill with Philadelphia Theatre Company and Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Westport Country Playhouse, following a successful co-production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Geva Theatre Center.
Philadelphia Theatre Company (PTC) is a leading regional theater company that produces, develops, and presents entertaining and imaginative contemporary theater focused on the American experience. Founded in 1974, Philadelphia Theatre Company has presented 203 World and Philadelphia premieres. More than 50 percent of PTC’s world premieres have moved on to New York and other major cities, helping to earn Philadelphia a national reputation as a hub for new play development. In 2007, PTC was instrumental in expanding Philadelphia’s thriving cultural corridor by opening the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on the Avenue of the Arts. PTC recently announced Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters as the winner of its 2022 Terrence McNally Award. She joins prior recipient Donja R. Love as the second playwright to receive the Award that PTC revived in 2021 to focus on Philadelphia writers.
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