Mary Louise Lee returning to Denver Center roots in 'Lady Day'

Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter

Mary Louise LeeMary Louise Lee will return to her professional roots next month when she appears in a special workshop production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill from Oct. 28-30 in the Jones Theatre.

Lee’s performing career began at the Denver Center when she appeared in Beehive at what is now the Garner-Galleria Theatre while only 18 and still a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School. She has said she considers playing Billie Holiday in a standout 2002 production of Lady Day for Shadow Theatre Company to be her most meaningful performance.

Lady Day is a haunting portrayal of a woman with a singular singing voice — and a lethal heroin habit. During the performance, Lee tells the jazz legend’s troubled life story through the songs that made her famous, including “God Bless the Child,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Strange Fruit” and “Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness.” Set in Philadelphia in 1959, Holiday’s performance at Emerson’s Bar & Grill was one of her last. Lady Day is not just a memorable tribute to the singer, but also a moving portrait of her struggles with addiction, racism, and loss.

Lee was named Best Actress in a Musical by Westword for her Lady Day performance in 2003. The review said: “A stunning evening of theatre. Lee’s singing is absolutely radiant. Her voice is smooth as glass. At times she sounds uncannily like Holiday, at others entirely like her full-throated self.”

Lee, who has sung the national anthem before 78,000 Denver Broncos fans and appeared on the nationally televised America’s Got Talent, returned to the DCPA in 2014 to sing with the cast of the national touring production of the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet onstage at the Buell Theatre. (See photo by John Moore, above right, and video, below.) And last December, Lee won a 2015 True West Award for her performance in the new musical, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop.

Read John Moore’s Denver Post profile of Mary Louise Lee

Some of Lee’s other notable local theatre performances have included Vogue Theatre’s A Brief History of White Music, the Arvada Center’s The 1940s Radio Hour, Country Dinner Playhouse’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, Denver Civic’s Menopause the Musical and Afterthought Theatre Company’s The Wiz, as Glinda the Good Witch. She took on that role just after husband Michael B. Hancock was elected Mayor of Denver in 2011.

She is choir Director at the New Hope Baptist Church, and founder of “Bringin’ Back the Arts,” a foundation that encourages arts education in the public schools.

A Lady Day Westword

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Lady DayBy Lanie Robertson
Featuring Mary Louise Lee
Directed by Hugo Sayles
Music Direction and Piano by Michael Williams
Oct 28-30, 2016
The Jones Theatre
Tickets start at $25
Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
Approximately 90 minutes without intermission
Adult language and content
Age Recommendation: 17+

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Video: Mary Louise Lee sings with Million Dollar Quartet:

Video: Watch Mary Louise Lee sing ‘Fools Fall in Love’ with the cast of ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at the Buell Theatre in 2014.


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