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She already has six Tony Awards under her belt, but Broadway star Audra McDonald is hardly a household name over here.

Now (a year later than planned – she’s had a baby in the meantime) she stumbles on stage, rambling and already half cut,  in a figure-hugging white evening gown to make her West End debut as the iconic Billie Holiday, months before her death  in 1959. For the 90 minutes of Lanie Robertson’s 30 year old “musical play”, McDonald is Holiday, cadging a fag and a light, downing tumblers of whisky and gin, and interspersing over a dozen songs with snippets of biographical information about the troubled jazz legend who was dead long before her 45th birthday.

Designer Christopher Oram has placed tables and chairs for the audience both on stage and in the front stalls to create a Philadelphia bar where Shelton Becton’s Jimmy Powers leads her three piece backing band and tries to keep her performance on track as she makes an unscheduled disappearance mid-set to shoot up.

It’s a painful story of abuse – sexual, racial, alcohol, drug – and a turbulent childhood. But it’s the songs we’re really there for and McDonald doesn’t disappoint with her renditions of “Strange Fruit” and “God Bless the Child

And full marks to tiny Chihuahua Tilly as Pepi - big-hearted, bat-eared and licking his incoherent mistress’s face with an unconditional love she probably rarely found elsewhere.  

Wyndhams, Charing Cross Road WC2H 0DA

Tube: Leicester Square

Until 9th September 2017  

£12.50 -  £62.50 + Premium seats & Cabaret seating

 


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