Last Thursday was Lady Day at the Circle in The Square Theatre. I knew that Lady Day was a musical about Billie Holiday and featured her songs, but honestly, although I was a fan of Billie and especially her more popular songs like Strange Fruit and God Bless the Child, the main reason I wanted to see this show was because of Audra McDonald. I would happily pay good money to hear her sing in the shower, if it meant hearing her beautiful voice live. So my priority for the night was as follows: 1) Meet and get a picture with Audra McDonald. And the way I saw it, getting to see her on Broadway before meeting her was just an added bonus!
Right when I start to think that I’ve been to every Broadway theatre in New York City (All 40 of them!), I discovered another theatre that I’ve never attended. And that was my experience with the Circle in The Square Theatre. But once we entered, got our tickets scanned, and were led to our seats, the layout of the theatre got me seriously excited. My eyes immediately zeroed in on the in-the-round stage that was flipped to look like a jazz club.
There was a bar, tables and chairs, and on a raised podium a microphone where Audra would sing, a piano, and drum-set. We were guided to our table on the stage and I suddenly understood why my boyfriend had been so insistent that I dress up. We were practically a part of the show! The select few who were lucky enough to have scored tickets on stage were to be directly serenaded by Audra McDonald herself… or should I say Miss Lady Day? And then in typical red theatre seats surrounding the stage sat everybody else. A server walked right over to us and wasted no time in pouring us champagne and sparkling water (complimentary with the price of the tickets). Now that’s what I call service.
Before the show officially started, we were treated to a pre-show from the fantastic jazz band that accompanied Audra throughout each and every one of her 18 songs. There was a light buzz of contented conversation and muted laughter until Audra made her entrance and everyone went wild! She was already in character as Billie, clutching a drink and hobbling on her heels between our tables, weaving her way to the platform where she greeted us warmly.
As the show progressed, Billie appeared to grow more and more disturbed and visibly drunk. This escalated to such an extent that at one point, despite her on stage band’s urging, she refused to sing another number and dashed off the stage, leaving us shocked. The band looked at us apologetically and started to play some music to keep us entertained. And before we knew it Billie entered again, this time carrying a small white dog with her! It appeared that her good mood had returned and she sang through the entirety of What a Little Moonlight Can Do, singing straight to the dog.
The two songs that brought tears to my eyes were Strange Fruit and God Bless the Child. I was such a fan of Billie’s versions that I was initially worried that the show wouldn’t do them justice. But I should have known better! Leave it to Audra! She brought the songs to life with such raw emotion and skill, that when I closed my eyes, it was as if Billie was singing.
Following a half hour of waiting in the night drizzle, a very contrite looking Audra rushed to meet and greet each and every fan waiting by the stage door, myself included. And of course, instead of telling her about how she inspired me to sing or about how someday I hoped to be on Broadway too, I kind of blurted out “You’re amazing!” and got a picture taken with her. And although I perhaps could have been a bit more eloquent (Okay, a lot more eloquent), I got the message across all the same, and Audra, being the goddess that she is, seemed charmed in spite of my blatant fan-girling.