Can Audra McDonald be stopped? The acclaimed Broadway actress has already won five Tony Awards and has a strong chance to pick up a sixth for playing Billie Holiday in the revival of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Lanie Robertson’s 1986 play is a re-creation of one of Holiday’s last shows, at a Philadelphia club just months before her death in 1959. It’s not much of a play, merely an extended monologue in which Holiday, between songs, gives a rambling account of the abuse, racism and addiction that plagued her life. There’s something a little surefire, even patronizing, about Broadway’s most operatic star playing a wasted jazz singer trying to hold it together through a haze of booze and heroin. But McDonald is totally convincing, and her reproduction of Holiday’s delicate, croaky, emotionally charged singing voice is downright uncanny. If not one of the great performances in Broadway history, it’s certainly one of the great impersonations.
This appears in the May 26, 2014 issue of TIME.
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