June 24 2015 01:55 PM

Ion Theatre shines with Billie Holiday production

Cashae Monya stars in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Photo courtesy of Ion Theatre

Ion Theatre's transformation of its adjacent URBN CENTR 4THE ARTS into a faded South Philly bar in the late '50s provides an intimate candlelit setting for the gifted Cashae Monya's performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. The 80-minute production isn't technically a one-person show— musical director Brandon Sherman, as keyboardist Jimmy Powers, accompanies Monya from the shadows. But you'll never take your eyes off Monya, who may not have the singing voice of Lady Day (come on, who does?), yet does justice to signature Holiday songs including "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "God Bless the Child" and "Don't Explain." More impressive, Monya's portrayal of a sick—and sick at heart—Holiday performing during the last year of her life is periodically sweet and sad.

The focus of Lanie Robertson's 2014 play, which starred Audra McDonald on Broadway, is not on Holiday's distinctive vocalizing but rather on her aching, sometimes rambling reminiscences about a life marred by racism, substance abuse and even brief imprisonment. Monya's dramatization is chilling.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill runs through July 4 at ion theatre's URBN CNTR 4THE ARTS in Hillcrest. $15-$35. iontheatre.com

In spite of its inclusion of 25 songs made famous by Elvis Presley, the jukebox musical All Shook Up is about as King-like as those innocuous movies Elvis made in the '60s, like Tickle Me and Girl Happy. This Joe DiPetro-written show draws much more on its other inspiration, Shakespeare's comedy of romancing and masquerading, Twelfth Night. Everybody loves (or lusts) for somebody sometime in All Shook Up, which kicks off Moonlight Stage Production's 2015 summer season. 

The good-natured confusion about who the somebodies are, coupled with a likable cast, distinguishes this Moonlight show. Too many of the Elvis songs, on the other hand, come off as watered down, with only ballads like "Follow That Dream" a good fit for the story. Interestingly enough as well for a show channeling Elvis, the most electric performances are delivered by actresses Vonetta Mixson, Tracy Lore and Christine Hewitt.

All Shook Up runs through June 27 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. $24-$52. moonlightstage.com

Write to davidc@sdcitybeat.com.


Stories of the Sun Café: An original play about growing up Chinese or Japanese in 1940s San Diego. Presented by Asian Story Theater, it opens June 25 for four performances at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza. asianstorytheater.org

AlwaysPatsy Cline: The musical story of the legendary country singer and her unlikely friendship with a fan named Louise Segar. It opens June 26 at On- Stage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org

Charlotte's Web: The timeless story of a really smart spider and a pig that's just trying his best not to get eaten. Presented by San Diego Junior Theatre, it opens June 26 at Casa del Prado Theatre in Balboa Park. juniortheatre.org

Alas, Poor Yorick: A staged reading of Del Mar playwright Gary Seger's "prequel" to Hamlet. Presented by the San Diego Shakespeare Society and the La Jolla Theatre Ensemble, it happens June 30 and July 3 at the La Jolla Community Center. ljcommunitycenter.org

Kiss Me, Kate: A musical rom-com about a Shakespearean touring company with so much drama backstage, the Bard himself would be jealous. It opens July 1 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org


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