Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Crepe de Paris, 1333 Fifth Ave, 623-4111. $18/$45.

Through Aug 31.

Jeez. I didn't know that Billie Holiday peed on somebody....

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill is billed as "cabaret." My dusty old Funk and Wagnall's defines cabaret as "live performance"--a useless definition for a wary theatergoer. Basically, something called a "cabaret" can turn out to be anything from screaming drag queens lip-synching Diamanda Galas to adults-only puppet shows to one-woman interpretations of the last four seasons of Friends.

Lady Day is a musical bio-monologue given by Billie Holiday during one of her Philly gigs just before her death. Because the show's playing at Crepe de Paris (that French joint located deep in the organic-flowlessness of Rainier Square), "cabaret" in this context basically means "dinner theater." This is important to understand because, frankly, some people just do NOT get off on dinner theater. In an ideal world, the pleasures of dinner and those of theater would remain separate. Why? Because a poignant moment like Billie lurching off-stage for an "H" fix loses something if a dripping chunk of crab cake is dangling in front of one's face. And vice versa.

Please also note: If you are expecting (and preferring) a Vegas-styled celebrity impersonation of Billie Holiday, SKIP THIS SHOW. Miss Charlie Parker (the ironically named actress playing Billie) gives a thoughtful and honestly touching interpretation of Billie in her final days, but this is a performance, not a pastiche. There are no Billie Holiday "impersonations" here.

Parker's sweet crooning shines when her confidence does--numbers like "Strange Fruit" (sung after Billie reminisces about peeing on some racist bitch but before she dashes off-stage for a date with sweet lady H) were terrific, but others needed just a spot of polish. All said, Parker captures an apt and endearing old Billie and tells her amazing story with depth. Of course, Parker's youthful visage belies that of a seriously sick and broken-hearted jazz legend on the brink of tragic death. But that was fine with me. I was trying to eat.

by Adrian Ryan