Kim Nalley is Billie Holiday in Lady Day In Love by Bruce Bellingham
Kim Nalley is Billie Holiday in
Lady Day In Love
by Bruce Bellingham
There are moments in Kim Nalley's performance as the legendary Billie Holiday in Lady Day In Love, now running at the Fellowship Theatre guild on Larkin (at Broadway), when she sounds uncannily like the star crossed siger. But beyond that, Kim has a way of taking the pathos, the tragedy, the toughness, and certainly the genius that Lady Day had and making it her own.
When you hear the title "Lady Day In Love", you know that this will be a sad story. Holiday was the muse for so many love affairs but her own -and it wasn't for lack of trying - were doomed.
Nalley's interpretations of Holiday's songs - backed solidly by pianist
Tammy Hall, her long time associate and a Jazz at Pearl's regular- would have been good on their won.
But the talented playwright C.J. Verburg has written a stage vehicle for the Holiday songs. "We were lucky to have Kim Nalley really makes this show come alive." Yes, it really is Kim's show and she has shown herself to be an incredible talented performer. Not only does she appear regularly at her North beach jazz club (co-owned by he husband Steve Sheraton), she did a Nina Simone Tribute last month at Yoshi's in Oakland, it coincides with a CD release, "She Put A Spell On Me"). One night I even saw Kim singing folk songs like "Guantananera" at a benefit accompanying herself on guitar.
Lady Day In Love concentrates on Holiday's ill-fated,drug- and booze-drenched marriage to the hapless Jimmy Monroe, played convincingly by Ed L. Gilles III. Lady SunRise plays Biliie's mom, the unhappy Sadie Fagan, who has to stand by and watch her gifted daughter slowly unravel and self-destruct. There's plenty of guilt to go around in the Billie Holiday story. She recounts how Billie's father died after being refused by one white-only hospital after another.
After the intermission, Nalley, as Holiday, has undergone a dramatic change. We see the devastating effects of heroin and alchohol on her, we hear the stories of her incarceration, we get an account of Billie's spiraling life from the now dead Sadie, and we hear a new deeper dimension to her sinign. Billie now appears ghostly yet dfiant. But the show is far from mawkish or lurid. the satisfying steady stream of songs- the real Holiday legacy - take center stage. No wonder all the greats - Count basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Godman and on and on - wanted to work with her.
Some of the highlights include Nalley's versions of "Crazy in Love" . . . "I Wished On the Moon" lyrics by Dorothy Parker) ... a heart rending "Dont' Expalin" ... the famous Holiday composition "God Bless the Child" ... a riveting "Strange Fruit" ... and a bofoo treatment of "Body & Soul."
Bille was only 44 when she died of liver failure in a new York hosptial in 1959. Her parents never made it to that age.
Kim Nalley and playwright Verburg have the right idea when the let the music have the last word int he Billie Holiday story.