Bonita and Billie Holiday
Facsimile of a Lady Day show that alludes to her off-stage dramas
This article is from 2016.
After an introductory slide show that places Billie Holiday in her socio-political context – racism, drug use, the golden age of jazz – Bonita Brisker begins her impersonation of Billie Holiday with a brief scene set in her dressing room. Taking only a few moments to sketch out Holiday's character, she quickly crosses the stage to perform a series of numbers made famous by the great singer, only briefly returning to the dressing room for another brief dramatic episode.
The pleasure of this production is Brisker's imitation of Holiday: she covers Lady Day's moods, from lovesick to political – 'Strange Fruit' is unsurprisingly emotive, even though the video projections do spell out the song's meaning a little too literally. Her between song banter reveals some of Holiday's life: troubles with drugs, men and the FBI, and a passionate defence of her arrest.
There is not, however, much dramatic tension in the show. The two scenes merely sketch out her trouble with admirers and substance abuse – her battle with the needle is a perfunctory interlude – and the power of the songs overshadows the weak attempt to lend the evening a narrative.
As a primer to Holiday's work, and for Brisker's superb recreation of the performer, Bonita and Billie is entertaining and impressive. It's unsteady when it tries to transform the concert into a theatrical experience, but will delight fans of one of jazz's first ladies.
Assembly Roxy, until 28 Aug, 9.50pm, £12–£13.