Following the best theatrical tradition that the show must go on, Cape Fear Regional Theatre returns to “telling great stories” with the opening performance of its 2020-2021 season on Oct. 8, featuring an innovative and exciting musical production of “Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill.” Performances will be outdoors at 100 Broadfoot Avenue (behind Haymont Auto). Thanks to the graciousness of the owner of Haymont Auto, and with support from the city of Fayetteville, CFRT is able to provide live theater that is safe and enjoyable for die-hard jazz fans and those who may be new to this national treasure.
Nicknamed “Lady Day,” by her good friend and occasional musical partner, tenor saxophonist Lester Young, Billie Holiday remains one of our most renowned American jazz legends. Like all great jazz musicians, Holiday was known for her improvisational skills. She was influenced, while still quite young, by Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, and she became enthralled with “scat singing” wherein a singer uses the voice as a musical instrument, improvising melodies and rhythms rather than singing actual words.
Despite a very rough childhood, and as a victim of rampant racial prejudice throughout much of her career, Holiday became an international jazz sensation. Recording for various record labels, her instantly recognizable hits are too numerous to list in this preview. Frank Sinatra lauded her as “the greatest musical influence on me.”
“Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill,” was written by Lanie Robertson and played successfully on and off Broadway before being made into a movie. Set in a South Philly bar, it tells the story of one of Holiday’s last performances before her untimely July 1959 death. Although chock full of legendary jazz numbers, it is called a “musical play” because the title character engages in quite a bit of intimate conversation between songs. Despite some raw moments, this is ultimately a story of resilience.
“During this period when many of us may feel unsure of life itself,” said Greensboro-based artist, Gregory Horton, who directs and designed the costumes, “Lady Day will be so life affirming … especially in the face of COVID-19.”
Janeta Jackson, from CFRT’s sold-out May 2019 production of “Crowns,” brings her amazing voice to the role of Holiday. Jackson reprises her 2019 Charlotte performance, albeit under very different circumstances. Asked how she planned to compensate for an outdoor performance, Jackson replied, “I intend to reimagine the whole setting. I worked at Disney, so I’m used to performing outside.”
Broadway artist and Fayetteville native Brian Whitted acts as music director for the production and also plays the part of Jimmy Powers, Lady Day’s pianist. CFRT audiences will remember him from the 2015 production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
Due to the size of the outdoor space, which might mimic the capacity of that Philly Bar& Grill, seating will be very limited so everyone is “encouraged to book early.” The show runs through Oct. 25. Tickets and programs will be paperless and masks will be required of all staff and audience members.
For performance schedules along with available ticket and discount information, please visit cfrt.org or call the box office at 910-323-4233. Please join Up & Coming Weekly in welcoming CFRT’s bold resurrection of live theater here in Fayetteville by making sure that all of these performances are sold out.
Pictured: Janeta Jackson performs as Billie Holiday in CFRT's "Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill" Oct. 8-25.