With a “new day” upon us, for women making history, the Fremont Theatre in South Pasadena’s presentation of “Billie Holiday Front and Center,” the story of Lady Day, Billie Holiday, is heartwarming, nostalgic, empowering, and bittersweet in one. Sybil Harris’ portrayal of Holiday is a definite showstoppers, accompanied by her highly gifted live jazz ensemble. When entering the theatre space, I felt as if I were actually in New Orleans’ Preservation Hall, jazz headquarters of the world. There is absolutely no better way to celebrate the extraordinary talent of this legendary vocalist than by seeing this show, reliving her life, and learning the highs (literally) and lows (downfalls) of her life, both personally and professionally. The Fremont lives up to its stellar reputation by presenting this phenomenon of a musical tribute, revealing an undeniably gritty chronicle of the blues singer’s rise and fall. The show begins with a glimpse of her early family life, the tumultuous relationship with her mother, her stint as a prostitute on the streets of NYC, her success as a cabaret lounge performer, and her ultimate demise into heroin addiction.
Each song is a unique life story in and of itself, culminating with the hauntingly beautiful “Strange Fruit,” with lyrics inspired by poet Lewis Allen’s words about the lynching of Negroes that the world just couldn’t ignore. Lady Day (Harris) offers her own raspy signature spiritual rendition, leaving the audience mesmerized. “Southern trees bear strange fruit…blood on the leaves, blood on the root.” In the annals of phenomenal Black women who never gave up on their dream, i.e. Maya Angelou; Ella Fitzgerald; Shirley Chisholm; and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few, Billie Holiday was a forerunner and role model, paving the way for musical entertainers today. Her fait accompli, as depicted in this show, was performing to a sold out crowd (three times) at Carnegie Hall. Harris emotes a sparkling, yet demure stage presence, commanding the audience, with her realistic portrayal of both Billie Holiday’s glamorous aura, a mere facade of a tortured soul. The live jazz band was the proverbial cherry on the cake, eliciting the mood of the day with vibrancy and sizzle.
Through Sunday June 19 Fremont Theatre 1000 Fremont Ave. Pasadena
Fridays and Saturdays 8PM; Sundays 3 PM
info: (626)441-5977 http://www.fremontcentretheatre.com