Nina Kristofferson’s Billie Holiday Story *** 3/5
The Charing Cross Theatre
Tuesday 14th May 2013
Starring Nina Kristofferson
The show runs daily 7.30pm at The Charing Cross Theatre, London, until 25th May 2013.
Tickets – £12-£35. Tel – 08444 930 650. For further information and to book click here
“The musical play is a brilliant cocktail of songs and stories from Billie Holiday’s life woven through the haunting memories that plagued her.
The show takes you through the high’s and lows of Billie Holiday’s career punctuation each story with some of her greatest hits like God Bless The Child, Good Morning Heartache, Strange Fruit, Don’t Explain, All of me and many more. Billie’s unusual timbre tells a story like no other jazz singer. Her phrasing and timing is heartfelt as she takes you on a journey which encapsulates her many influences including prostitution, the cops, doing time and the affects drugs had on her life. Her relationship with men, her work, the abuse she suffered by those who took advantage of her. What drove her and finally killed her.”
In this one woman musical, Nina Kristofferson charts the life and times of Jazz singing legend Billie Holiday via the songs of Billie Holiday.
There were a number of familiar songs played beautifully by the band including ‘Moon over Bourbon Street’, which I recognised as a Sting song from his first solo, Jazz influenced album, ‘The Dream of the Blue Turtles’. It’s not surprising it sounded so good as Geoff Gascoyne (Double Bass) and Martin Shaw (Trumpet) have played with Sting and Oliver Patrick(drummer) has performed with Stewart Copeland (The Police).
In the main though we hear Nina sing beautifully and powerfully to so many well known and lesser known songs too, including ‘Easy Living’ and ‘That Ole Devil Called Love.’
In a relatively straightforward show that showcased songs, Nina confidently chatted to the audience between songs (something many performers struggle or choose not to do) or enticed audience members to get up from their seats for a little dance. This was a nice surprise and brought a smile to the faces of those watching.
The stage set was superb, with echo’s of 1940’s New York. The Charing Cross Theatre is a great little theatre, which allowed for the creation of a good, intimate atmosphere in keeping with the spirit of the Jazz clubs where Billie Holiday frequently performed in her heyday. Particularly with the cabaret setting of tables in front of the stage.
I like her use of the word “cats” to describe certain characters in her life. In the time she lived I daresay Nina would have been called the ‘N’ word and might even have used the word when describing her treatment. It’s noteworthy that Nina mentioned that she considered and immediately rejected using the ‘N’ word in her show, as she did not consider it appropriate for she still considers it a derogatory word and didn’t wish to detract from the story.
Quite deliberately she used the word “cats” instead. Ironically only last week I’d been pondering what words controversial Comedian Reginald D Hunter could have used instead of ‘that’ word which got him into so much hot water at the end of April at the PFA awards and “cats” is precisely the word I thought he could have used without losing any of the meaning.
I found the show delivered an enchanting musical, telling a narrative story, as from song to song, apart from the acting where we saw the tragic turns Billie’s life took, the songs on their own didn’t, to me, tell the complete story. Maybe you would see this differently. You’ll just have to go and see what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts once you’ve seen it.
With there being no other performers on stage, this meant the show somewhat lacked the dramatic tension I like to see in a drama or musical. However, there were staged acts to enable you to understand her drug and alcohol use. Or using her leather strap, she did demonstrate how she took drugs, drank alcohol and showed the audience how she drank herself into a stooper. She recklessly threw herself in sorrow on the very piano, that dominated a corner of the room, that supported her music. She demonstrated her heartache and joys on stage using her eyes and her fantastic voice. It was clear her only happiness was for the love of music and the love she had in her life!
This is a wonderfully put together show, consistently interesting and relaxing to listen to. I imagine fans of Billie Holiday’s music will find this a superb interpretation of her life and musical artistry.
The show runs until 25th May 2013.
©Tiemo Talk of the Town
15th May 2013
Photo Nina Kristofferson © Keith Pattinson