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Conversations with creators and organizers of the arts scene in West Michigan, hosted by Cara Lieurance

Alexis J Roston brings experienced portrayal of Billie Holiday to Farmers Alley Theatre

Alexis J Roston
Kat Mumma
Farmers Alley Theatre
Alexis J Roston, as Billie Holiday in ‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill’

“I think we’re kindred spirits,” says Alexis J Roston, who appears as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. The Chicago-based actress won a Jeff Award for her portrayal of Holiday. It’s a role she first played in 2013; this production at Farmers Alley Theatre will be her fifth.

In a conversation with Cara Lieurance, Roston, music director Abdul Hamid Royal, and Farmers Alley Theatre’s artistic director Jeremy Koch talk about Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.

Staged as a concert from late in Holiday’s life, Roston sings over a dozen songs and banters with Royal as bandleader “Jimmy Powers." Royal says Jimmy is a composite character that stands in for Holiday's real-life accompanist/arrangers. He'll sit onstage at the piano and accompany Roston in a trio with bass and drums.

Royal says Holiday was a genius who changed music forever with her unique concept of using her voice as a jazz instrument. For Roston, Holiday’s refusal to see herself as a victim is another vital aspect of her artistry.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill runs at Farmers Alley Theatre from Friday, Apr 29 - Sunday, May 15.

Cara Lieurance is the local host of NPR's All Things Considered on 1021 WMUK and covers local arts & culture on Let's Hear It on 89.9 Classical WMUK weekday mornings at 10 - 11 am.