Show, starring Melba Moore, imagines one of the final performances of the legendary Billie Holiday

SARASOTA, FL – In Lanie Robertson’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe will pay tribute to one of music’s greatest legends, Billie Holiday. The jazz and blues specialist had a voice that sounded like no other’s, summing up the very essence of lost love, heartache, and the atmosphere of a smoky cabaret where everyone in the audience is drinking to forget. 

Star of stage, screen, and studio Melba Moore will perform in the lead role. Director is WBTT founder and artistic director, Nate Jacobs.

In Lady Day, it’s 1959 and Holiday appears in a small Philadelphia bar for one of her final performances. Audiences get more than expected: she sings a dozen of her beloved classics, like “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit,” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” and interlaces them with salty, sometimes funny, stories that reveal a riveting portrait of one of the greatest jazz/blues vocalists of all time.

Lady Day doesn’t attempt to detail all the highlights—or lowlights—of Holiday’s story, which included a childhood in which she was neglected by her mother and largely abandoned by her father, longtime and destructive drug use leading to time in prison, and abuse at the hands of several of the men with whom she became involved. Instead, it focuses on just one particular performance by Holiday at the end of her life, and it provides a bravura role for any singer-actress who can walk in Holiday’s footsteps. In a 2014 Broadway revival of the show, that was multitalented Audra McDonald; here at WBTT, it’s Melba Moore, a longtime friend of the company and a Tony Award-winning performer with more than five decades in the business.

Moore is an American singer, actress and entertainer who made her Broadway debut in Hair. Over the course of that show, she became the first African-American woman to replace a white actress (Diane Keaton) in a lead role. In 1970 she starred in Purlie, which earned her a Tony Award for her portrayal as Lutiebelle. Another first came when she landed the female lead role on Broadway as Fantine in the acclaimed musical, Les Misérables. Following the success of Purlie, Moore landed two big-screen film roles, released two successful albums, “I Got Love” and “Look What You're Doing to the Man,” and co-starred with actor Clifton Davis in the then-couple's own successful variety television series in 1972. She has topped the charts with a number of successful songs – including hits “Lean on Me” and “You Stepped Into My Life” – and has been nominated for four Grammy Awards. 

Appearing as Holiday’s accompanist Jimmy Powers as well as serving as music director for the show is Levi Barcourt. Understudy for Moore is JoAnna Ford.

Musicians performing with Barcourt are Kenneth Walker on bass and James Varnado on drums. Production stage manager is Juanita Munford. Production manager is James E. Dodge II. Set design by Michael Newton-Brown. Costume design is by Patricia Gregory. Wig designer is Joyce Ward. Lighting designer is Nick Jones. Property master/designer is Annette Breazeale. Technical director is Shane Streight. 

"There are few vocalists who have had such an intense and lasting impact on listeners as Billie Holiday. When you hear her music, you know exactly what she was singing about and the depths of the emotion she was feeling at the time," said Jacobs. "We feel so fortunate to have a performer as talented and experienced as Melba Moore playing the lead role in this production. Based on our rehearsals, I can guarantee that audiences are going to be transported back in time and feel like they are actually watching Billie Holiday in that seedy bar."

The show, which does contain strong language and graphic situations, runs February 28 – April 8, 2018. Performances take place at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. This production is sold out for all standard seats; due to demand, new onstage café seating is now available for $75/ticket. Call the Box Office (941-366-1505) or go to

About Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe:

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe of Florida, Inc. is the only professional black theater company on Florida’s West Coast. The mission is to produce professional theatre that promotes and celebrates the African-American experience, to attract diverse audiences, to support and develop African-American artists, and to build the self-esteem of African-American youth. For more information on WBTT, visit the website at or call (941) 366-1505.

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