Legendary jazz songstress Billie Holiday is set to take the stage with a six show run at the City Repertory Theatre starting September 17th.
Yes, you read that right.
Embodying ‘Lady Day’ herself, vocalist Laniece Fagundes will star in the season opener for the avant-garde theatre alongside musician Ben Beck for what the duo call ‘a peek behind the curtain’.
Loosely based on Holiday’s life, the Broadway hit was inspired by Holiday’s performance at Emerson’s Bar and Grill in Philadelphia shortly before her death in 1959.
“The show is a performance, it’s a live concert, one of the last performances. It’s cool because she tells a bunch of different stories about her experiences, her childhood, growing up and it’s got some of her greatest songs interwoven,” shares Fagundes
A vocalist and piano teacher, Fagundes puts two decades of training into the role that CRT artistic director John Sbordone has held for her for nearly 10 years.
“The first time John brought it to me, it’s not a show that I found I wanted to do. At the time I was very young and it didn’t work,” said Fagundes. “Now we’ve come full circle. I’ve embraced it and connected with her in reading her story.”
A formally trained musician, Beck accompanies Fagundes on the piano, and has challenged the vocalist to level up.
“I tell Ben all the time I love working with him because he makes you want to be better, greater,” she said. “I don’t know if he goes into it with that intention, but it is naturally what occurs. It’s like an energy or vibe – achieving greatness.”
“And John, you have to appreciate when he does this, he doesn’t accept what is a surface layer, if it’s not deep enough. If he feels like you can give more, he’s going to pull it out of you,” she said.
Capturing Holiday’s essence, the soul of her music, Sbordone says Fagundes has exceeded his expectations.
“If I have really talented people I’m going to find ways of letting them stretch and do things they might not think they can do,” he said. “That’s part of what City Repertory Theatre is about, our founding node, to get the best performers and try to stretch their talents.”
Serving as the show’s musical director and taking on the role of Jimmy Powers, Beck says he is enjoying the opportunity to showcase his craft while portraying the comfort and conflict dynamic between the characters.
“It’s a fun ‘pull back the curtain’ moment for me as a musician because I do this in real life. I get with people and they sing a set of songs, and things happen in live performance. It’s an interesting piece to be able to let other people see that relationship between pianist and singer, and have that transparency you wouldn’t know about if you were literally just going to a club and enjoying the music at it was happening,” he said.
Returning to their home theatre at City Marketplace in Palm Coast, the cast is looking forward to evenings in the intimate theatre, as Lanie Robertson’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” opens the breakout 11th season for City Repertory Theatre.
“I think this is going to be among the very best things we’ve ever done here because they are so good,” said Sbordone.
After 10 Years of Delight CRT Begins Ascension into the Next Decade
From musicals to comedies and everything in between, the full 2021-22 season is an emotional roller coaster, and Sbordone wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s the adding of another layer of depth after 10 years. A maturing that doesn’t grow up but grows out as the theatre’s cast expands their abilities to meet the new, challenging roles that have defined the CRT brand.
Describing the season, Sbordone knows each one as well as he knows his own children. Including “Urinetown”, a show that “will have you laughing ‘til you cry”, according to the playbill, one can easily imagine Miley Cyrus swinging through the air on her wrecking ball.
“Urinetown is a brilliant parody, a fun show in which we can really get to use our theatre because we can climb the walls, we can interact over the audience, and do all the magnificent things a small, intimate venue allows us to do,” said Sbordone. “It’s a solid cast and the music sounds great already.”
There’s the poignant moment when talking about the witty, otherworldly comedy “Blithe Spirit”, featuring Annie Gaybis, Earl Levine, Victoria Page and Julia Truilo.
“We’re doing it as a stage reading,” he said. “It’s a wonderful script that we’re dedicating to Anne Kraft, who passed last spring and was one of our very, very favorite people and supporters.”
Les Ober, director of last season’s “The Crucible” success returns to debut “Wait Until Dark”, an edgy suspense drama, before the celebration of Women’s History Month brings ‘four badass ladies’ to the stage as “The Revolutionists” with Sue Pope, Phillipa Rose, Sharon Resnikoff and Leigh Ann Singleton leading the charge.
Closing out the season with “Waiting for Godot”, Sbordone says Broadway stars Earl Levine and Victoria Page began rehearsing at home over COVID to keep entertained, and now patrons of City Repertory Theatre will be have an opportunity to experience the mind-bending existential comedy by Samuel Beckett.
“It’s one of the great plays of the 20th century.”
Two additional shows are being added during the season, including a musical revue courtesy of MTI’s “All Together Now!” initiative. Sbordone is thrilled by the opportunity after a challenging year for the arts and culture industry.
“What MTI (Music Theatre International) has done, realizing so many nonprofits has such a horrible year because of COVID, opened up their doors and have allowed a weekend, to use numbers from their vast Broadway categories, free, and so we are doing a weekend, November 12th. Agata Sokolska, who is organizing this for me, has assembled really great voices from Orlando to Jacksonville, so we’re going to have 14 or 15 just brilliant numbers,” he said.
The second addition to the show bill will bring “The Mountaintop” to City Repertory Theatre in honor of Black History Month next February.
“It is a two character show that imagines the evening before Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated. It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of the workers at the motel. It’s a brilliant piece.”
Preparing for a season that reaches nearly every demographic and interest, Sbordone sees the embrace of groundbreaking theatre by experienced talent and the next generation of actors as a formula for continued success.
“I think that we’ve met so many of our goals. We were very fortunate to have a season last year as a tenth season, and we’re just ready and willing to launch into the new one,” he said.
All actors on City Repertory Theatre stage have been vaccinated. Full seating will be permitted, and audience members are asked to wear a mask during the performances.
“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”
September 17-26, 2021
Fri, Sat at 7:30 p.m., Sun at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets: $15/Students, $30/Adults
Presented by City Repertory Theatre
160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite B207 in City Marketplace
Palm Coast, FL 32164