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Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill - Broadway

Audra McDonald stars as Billie Holiday in this one-woman bio-play.

Will Lady Day Star Audra McDonald Make Tony Awards History? Oh, and Is She in a Play or a Musical?

Will Lady Day Star Audra McDonald Make Tony Awards History? Oh, and Is She in a Play or a Musical?
Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday in 'Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill'
Is 'Lady Day' a play or a musical? That’s the question.

If Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill is deemed a play by the Tony Administration Committee (and that’s a big IF), five-time Tony winner Audra McDonald will have a shot at the one performance category in which she has not yet won a Tony Award: Leading Actress in a Play.

But is Lady Day a play or musical? That’s the question. The show is clearly being positioned as a play: the press release explicitly calls it a “play with music,” and a production spokesperson confirmed to that the producers would like it considered in the Best Play Revival category.

On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons to think that the show is a musical. Both the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama League put it in the musical category, and Lonette McKee, who starred in the original off-Broadway production in 1987, was nominated for a Drama Desk Award as Best Actress in a Musical. McDonald, who plays Billie Holiday, sings 14 songs in the show.

The piece has never been on Broadway, so there is no precedent for what the Tony Administration Committee will decide.

“I think there’s some great competition in the Leading Actress in a Play category,” Lady Day producer Jeffrey Richards told on opening night. “We presented The Glass Menagerie earlier this year, and Cherry Jones was pretty magnificent. I would like to predict a tie.” Lady Day director Lonny Price does not want a tie: “I will be cheering so loud, I might break the sound barrier,” he said about McDonald possibly winning Leading Actress in a Play. “She deserves everything. If it happens, it would be lovely."

Leave it to the star to keep everything in perspective when it comes to awards. “I can’t even think about it,” McDonald told “I just want to remember my lines.”

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