*The spirit of 1940’s jazz star Billie Holiday has come to life once more. This time it’s in the energetic performance of actress/singer/writer Bonita Brisker in the critically acclaimed show“Bonita and Billie.” While countless other productions have continued the legacy of the late Lady Day, recently Miss Brisker’s show has grained magical traction before sell-out crowds in Los Angeles, Glendale, Dallas, and at the 2011 National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
What is so unique about Bonita’s Billie? Well ten years ago after being cast in another production to portray Miss Holiday, Bonita began a session of research that unfolded chapters of Billie’s story that had not yet been revealed. She was inspired to expose Billie as an activist, a loving family member and a spunky band mate. This side of Billie is often overshadowed by her tragic drug use. Staging an original show served as the perfect vehicle.
The actress Bonita morphs in and out of Billie Holiday on the stage right before your eyes. A lively and slightly rushed Bonita becomes a quickly collected version of Billie giving orders to her band, enjoying banter with her audience and emitting a gaiety in the singer that we’ve never known. In “Bonita and Billie” the audience also experiences Bonita the chanteuse as she transforms into the voice of Billie Holiday’s chilling renditions of Good Morning Heartache, Strange Fruit and God Bless The Child; among other classics.
How was it that Bonita mounted a show in the height of the recession? For starters, the actress possesses a keen business sense, one that entails the knowledge that if you want to succeed in Hollywood, then you must continue to create work for yourself. After years of developing the show, she enlisted Stephan Terry as musical director and brought on other industry colleagues such as director Denise Dowse and noted dramaturge Dr. Vera Katz. She then struck a deal with a local venue in Los Angeles. It fell short of an exact profit share because as producer, Bonita was the last to get paid, if at all. The tide has now turned as other investors are stepping forth to see that this ardent production goes forth.
Bonita is a D.C. native who moved to Los Angeles in the 1990’s. She immersed herself in the LA theater circuit and appeared in over 60 plays. Her Broadway debut came in 2007 opposite Charles Dutton in “Unrefined.” Miss Brisker also performed multiple roles in Dutton’s autobiographical show titled “From Jail to Yale.” Bonita is the winner of two NAACP Theater Awards among a long list of accolades as an actress and producer. One of which was the variety show “Della Reese Presents.” Bonita’s first feature film as producer was “Cuttin’ Da Mustard,” for which she won several independent film awards and The Film Choice Award from the Pan African Film Festival. Bonita has also performed extensively as a singer and she did a prolonged stint with jazz legend Roy Ayers.
The next stop for the Broadway bound “Bonita and Billie” show is Saturday, November 5th 2011 at the Publick Playhouse in Cheverly, Maryland (5445 Landover Road). This engagement is extra special because it represents a homecoming for her and is presented by her own company Brisk Entertainment; along with the Maryland National Parks & Planning Commission, and associate producer Herman Knight. Within days news of the show spread rapidly, resulting in thousands of advance tickets and reservations. Many city officials are also expected to attend.
The life and times of Billie Holiday is hardly new and audiences have never worn weary of her lingering sultry music, but it is also evident that audiences are hungry for new talent, new interpretations and hopefully a new regime of stars to join the precious few that have risen to superstar status in the past two decades. Bonita Brisker is seasoned but ever young, talented and ever determined that her Billie will live in its own light and create a new realm of understanding for Miss Holiday as well as a new destiny for herself. A limited amount of tickets are still available for “Bonita and Billie” on line or at the Publick Playhouse box office. For more information go to BonitaBrisker.com.
Publick Playhouse, 5445 Landover Road, Cheverly, MD 20784. Box Office: 301-277-0312
Story by LaRita ‘Jazzy Rita’ Shelby