‘Lady Day’ Dawns on Broadway with Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald
Walter McBride/WireImage

Tony favorite Audra McDonald will topline “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” in a last-minute addition to Broadway’s 2013-14 slate, confirming an expected move that last week had the industry anticipating a potential diva smackdown this awards season.

The 1986 Off Broadway show about Billie Holiday will mobilize to start previews March 25 at Circle the Square Theater, soon to be vacated by the Yankees play “Bronx Bombers,” which shutters March 2.

Lonny Price, who directed McDonald in the Roundabout Theater Company’s 2007 revival of “110 in the Shade,” helms “Lady Day.” Penned by Lainie Robertson, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” — a different show from a recent Off Broadway outing about the same subject, called simply “Lady Day” — will feature McDonald singing more than 15 Holiday tunes in the show, which follows the blues singer over the course of a concert performance soon before she died in 1959 at age 44.

Whether “Lady Day” will be classified by industry awards as a musical or simply as a “musical play” — as reps for “Lady Day” are referring to the show — remains to be seen, and could have an impact on an awards season that already has legiters talking up a possible cagematch in the leading actress in a musical category, with Kelli O’Hara (“The Bridges of Madison County”), Idina Menzel (“If/Then”), Sutton Foster (“Violet”), Jessie Mueller (“Beautiful”) and Michelle Williams (“Cabaret”) all viewed as potential contenders for a nomination.

McDonald reps a notable addition to the season no matter what category for which she qualifies. The actress is a Broadway fave who’s won five Tonys for perfs in “Porgy and Bess,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Ragtime,” “Master Class” and “Carousel.” The “Private Practice” star also recently co-starred in NBC’s live broadcast of “The Sound of Music.”

“Lady Day” adds one more title to an already busy season both on the Rialto overall and for producers Jeffrey Richards and Jerry Frankel, whose output this season also includes “Bridges of Madison County,” “All the Way,” “The Realistic Joneses” and the just-shuttered revival of “The Glass Menagerie.”

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” opens April 13 in a limited 10-week run.

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