With Black History Month upon us, what better way to celebrate and appreciate the gifted talent of legendary jazz/blues vocalist Billie Holiday, than with a performance of “Billie! Backstage with Lady Day.”
The Whitefire Theatre continues its ongoing solo series, starring Synthia L. Hardy as the iconic Billie Holiday, presenting an undeniably honest, emotional, gritty chronicle of her rise and fall. The show begins with a glimpse at her early life: a stint as a prostitute; an NYC cabaret singer; her marriages; and ultimate demise into drug/alcohol addiction. One particularly noteworthy anecdote is a gig at none other than a San Fernando Valley club, where Bob Hope came to Holiday’s rescue against a racist heckler.
Each song is a unique life story, soulfully delivered. In the hauntingly beautiful “Strange Fruit,” the lyrics are inspired by Lewis Allen’s poem about lynching of Negroes that the world couldn’t ignore. Lady Day (Hardy) offers her own raspy, spiritual rendition, recollecting her dying father’s mistreatment at a Jim Crow hospital: “Southern trees bear strange fruit, blood on leaves and blood on the root… in the southern breeze, strange fruit hangs from poplar trees.”
In the annals of phenomenal black women, Billie Holiday was the forerunner and role model, paving the way for today’s American Idol success stories Fantasia (“The Color Purple”) and Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”). Hardy, a dynamo, with a sparkling yet demure stage presence, in her own right, realistically conveys Holiday’s glamorous aura, merely a facade of a tortured soul. Lanny Hartley lends a crucial, supportive musical role as the Piano Man.
“Billie! Backstage with Lady Day” plays now through March 28, 2010, Sundays at 3 p.m. at The Whitefire Theatre (13500 Ventura Blvd.). For more information, call (323) 960-4418 or visit www.plays411.com/billie.