"Billie! Backstage with Lady Day
"The soul of blues/jazz singer Billie Holiday is back in the form of Synthia L. Hardy. Her one woman show, “Billie! Backstage with Lady Day” is one of the best one woman biographical shows since the story Big Mama Thornton. Both women had their troubles with themselves, and their families. Only Billie had a rougher life no writer could make up no matter how hard she/he tried. Synthia Hardy comes roaring in cussing up a storm dressed to perfection.
Hardy provided a bit of history of each of the songs. The most haunting song, which Hardy sang with such sadness and loss, “Strange Fruit” was written as a poem by Jewish high school teacher Abel Meeropol aka Lewis Allen after seeing a photograph of two men swinging high up on the trees as white onlookers cheered on. It was easy to see the pain in Hardy’s eyes as she recalled this moment as if it happened to her personally. By this time, her father died of pneumonia in jail; what was referred to as the Jim Crow Section.
Hardy did her homework thoroughly and got the legend of blues down to a science. Her brusque mannerisms, her rough language and the famous double gardenia worn on her right side of her hair were all brought to life. It was hard to distinguish where Hardy started and Holiday finished."
THE TOLUCAN TIMES, CA
Lady Day ‘Blues it Up’ at The Whitefire
Synthia L. Hardy as the iconic Billie Holiday.
With Black History Month upon us, what better way to celebrate and appreciate the gifted talent of legendary jazz/blues vocalist Billie Holiday, than with a performance of “Billie! Backstage with Lady Day.”
The Whitefire Theatre continues its ongoing solo series, starring Synthia L. Hardy as the iconic Billie Holiday, presenting an undeniably honest, emotional, gritty chronicle of her rise and fall. The show begins with a glimpse at her early life: a stint as a prostitute; an NYC cabaret singer; her marriages; and ultimate demise into drug/alcohol addiction. One particularly noteworthy anecdote is a gig at none other than a San Fernando Valley club, where Bob Hope came to Holiday’s rescue against a racist heckler.
Each song is a unique life story, soulfully delivered. In the hauntingly beautiful “Strange Fruit,” the lyrics are inspired by Lewis Allen’s poem about lynching of Negroes that the world couldn’t ignore. Lady Day (Hardy) offers her own raspy, spiritual rendition, recollecting her dying father’s mistreatment at a Jim Crow hospital: “Southern trees bear strange fruit, blood on leaves and blood on the root… in the southern breeze, strange fruit hangs from poplar trees.”
In the annals of phenomenal black women, Billie Holiday was the forerunner and role model, paving the way for today’s American Idol success stories Fantasia (“The Color Purple”) and Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”). Hardy, a dynamo, with a sparkling yet demure stage presence, in her own right, realistically conveys Holiday’s glamorous aura, merely a facade of a tortured soul. Lanny Hartley lends a crucial, supportive musical role as the Piano Man.
Grigware Talks Theatre, CA
Lady Day ‘Shakes it up’ at The Whitefire
Emmy Award-winning actress and singer, Synthia. L. Hardy as the most famous and bawdy jazz-blues singer in history is a simmering bundle of explosive dynamite! Holiday, known for a darkly sad life filled with racism, drugs, abuse and turbulence… It was a joy to get an in-depth look at the passion, love, friends and faith that also crossed her path. She was quite a gal! Synthia sensually does her costume changes onstage, and fabulously performs many of Billie’s trademark songs, accompanied tastefully by Richard “Eighty-eight Fingers” Turner, Jr. Called “Lady Day,” her parental love, issues with prejudice, multiple marriages, drug abuse, jail sentences and “gift” for soulfully interpreting her songs… shaped the complicated life that still touches the hearts of fans worldwide. I enjoyed every single “cusses like a sailor… Sings like an angel” moment!
THE SAN DIEGO
Oceanside Theatre’s ‘Billie! Backstage’ offers poignant look inside Holiday’s final years
Synthia L. Hardy has clearly spent many years studying and performing onstage as Billie Holiday. But she doesn’t glamorize the famous jazz singer in her well-written play with music “Billie! Backstage with Lady Day.”
Portraying Holiday in the mid-1950s, Hardy starts the play by storming up a side aisle from the lobby muttering a stream of obscenities at those who have wronged her. Then she downs two large glasses of vodka before acknowledging the audience who have arrived. It’s a bold beginning for the fascinating play, which Oceanside Theatre Co. opened Friday for a two-weekend run at the Brooks Theater.
Holiday drank herself to death at age 44, just a few years after this play is set, and her character’s proud delusions about her sobriety and her “good” husband Louis McKay — who would embezzle her earnings and leave her penniless — are poignant insights about the singer’s troubled life. Holiday grew up in poverty, was raped at age 10, spent time in reform school and prison, and battled drug addiction, alcoholism and oppressive racism. So the fierce and tough woman audiences meet in “Billie!” has been battle-hardened to survive.
Hardy’s physical and acting performance as Holiday is excellent. She’s also a strong singer, though she doesn’t sound a lot like Holiday. She re-creates Holiday’s breathy, swooping singing style and Holiday’s vocal improvisation skills, but Hardy has a deeper and richer voice than Holiday did toward the end of her life.
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