Nina Kristofferson’s Billie Holiday Story
The Electric Theatre, Guildford
On 02 March 2012
Review by Amy Yorston
The rise and fall of a star is always a fascinating subject and true life stories are always a delicious theatrical treat. Nina Kristofferson’s Billie Holiday story is a heady mix of monologues, drink, drugs and emotional jazz.
For those not familiar with Billie Holiday, this production is an intriguing introduction vividly sketching her life and career with its tumultuous highs and scandalous lows all interspersed with the songs that made her an icon. It is not a tribute show but some of Billie’s most recognisable melodies are present and are beautifully and soulfully executed. That strangely alluring delivery style is recognisable, but not mimicked, and despite the drinks and drugs Billie is represented as a fiery character full of life and not a victim to be pitied.
The drama in this piece lies largely in the delivery of facts, and Kristofferson wisely weaves these into her narrative, talking directly to the audience and occasionally to God using the whole playing area. Billie’s power lies in the spotlight behind the microphone, but once she steps away from the light Kristofferson displays the tormented side to Holiday talking of her abusive relationships and the pain of constant racial abuse. There is humour in the script however, if you pay attention, and the steady pace of the production stops the material from becoming too weighty.
Pianist Warren Wills is also integral to this show and his superb playing brings to life this story of elation and heartbreak as he accompanies the main songs and also underscores strategic moments in the script.
Unfortunately initial problems with her radio microphone distracted from this passionate performance and it was eventually turned off entirely. Despite this setback, Kristofferson continued regardless compensating for the problems by increasing her projection. This then resulted in a change of style from intimate to theatrical and so some subtleties were therefore lost. Coupled with her interpretation of Billie’s distinct accent and speed of delivery, occasionally some of the dialogue was difficult to hear. Fortunately music and vocals were unaffected by the issues as the static microphone was used for the majority of her singing ensuring the overall intensity of her performance was not diminished.
As writer of this piece and also its star, Nina Kristofferson displays her versatility both as an actress and singer in her portrayal of this most complicated woman. Kristofferson’s intricate fusion of music with drama creates an atmospheric evening remembering “Lady Day”.