By Ann-Marie Adams, Theater Reviewer
HARTFORD — A theater critic once said this about the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday: There are two types of people in this world, those who get Billie Holiday and those who don’t.
The same can be said of Vanessa Rubin’s rendition of the legend in the play, “Yesterdays–An Evening with Billie Holiday.”
In her theatrical debut as Billy Holiday, Rubin delivers an outstanding performance for a memorable and melancholy evening, as she crooned in between monologues that reintroduced a scarred child behind the tragic figure jazz lovers have come to know and love.
The scene is a New York City club in 1959 and Holiday gives her last performance. Rubin, as Holiday, talks about her childhood days including her rape, her first big break, her incarceration and her infamous performance at Carnegie Hall. She sings 16 songs, including “God Bless the Child,” “May Man” and “Strange Fruit.”
Rubin doesn’t have Billie Holiday’s breaking, crying voice, not that we should expect her to be live version of the woman many called the Judy Garland of a segregated black America. But she gave a stellar performance, channeling the pain and pleasure that permeated Holiday’s tragic life. Rubin delivered a beautiful and moving performance, holding her audience every minute of the almost two-hour show.
The other performers are Levi Barcourt on piano and Bernard Davis on drums and David Jackson on bass. Davis adds vocals during a staged intermission.
The production runs from Aug. 5 – Aug. 22.