Before Lady GaGa lived Lady Day
That Ole Devil Called Love...
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Billie Holiday (also known as Lady Day) had many devils on her shoulder and her story is currently captured at the Charing Cross theatre, that's the one opposite Heaven for those of you who didn't know. Nina Kristofferson not only wrote the musical but takes to the stage as the soul queen herself.
Once ushered to our seats it's apparent we have arrived in an old school jazz club. In front of the stage are a few round tables which turn out to be actual audience seats, both clever and cute adding to the authenticity.
As the band arrives the shoulder swaying and feet tapping begins. “I've only ever lived for music” says our star taking to the spotlight, looking stunning in sparkles against a spooky backdrop. Opening number 'A Fine Romance' instantly shows off Nina's talent of not only re-creating Lady Day's voice but she nails her Philadelphian accent and smooth mannerisms too.
Through a mixture of music and monologues we learn about the troubled stars shocking and tragic life. “Don't let this sh*t freak you. It is what it is.” warns Billie. Suffering from abuse, abandonment and addiction leads to some surreal scenes. The audience heart's race as she nurses her own broken heart by injecting herself with drugs and swilling gin. As she sings and talks the blues we learn troubled Billie can be simultaneously psychotic and glamorous.
Billie often involves the audience asking questions for reassurance and even cheekily performs numbers such as 'Lover Man' in the crowd flirting with the older gentlemen. Her humorous side is what seals the deal for the audience to fall in love with her character and her talent.
There's no over the top production but no real need for it when Nina delivers such a believable performance complimented by a live band and effective mood lighting. When telling the story she transports you there with her and are you eager to know what happens next. Unfortunately the end comes too soon for the 44 year old star as she meets the “angels” who have been haunting her throughout the story.
The ending is unexpectedly fun with audience members literally shouting out for more. There is an energetic encore complimented by clapping, cheering and smiling from around the room. In the crowd we spotted Alexandra Burke shimmying in her seat who later tweeted; “Nina Kristofferson is inspiring me so much right now.”
GT gives it: 4/5
The Billie Holiday Story runs till 25 May at the Charing Cross Theatre. Check out the website and book tickets here
Words: Ben Spence