Sunday, May 19, 2024

San Francisco’s “Lady Day” Makes Role Her Own

Recently I’d seen the wonderful Dedrick Weathersby in the musical “Remembering James.”

As I was leaving the Palace Theatre in North Beach on a high note, I was approached by a dapper gentleman Joe Bumpus.

Bumpus was there to promote his wife’s show “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” I saw the Broadway version with Tony winner Audra McDonald who was surprisingly amazing and definitely sublime in the role.

I told Mr. Bumpus that I’m sure his wife was good but I didn’t want to tarnish the experience I had with Audra and his wife couldn’t come near.

Less than a minute after my polite “thanks but thanks,” Mr. Bumpus plays me a song of his wife’s singing on his phone and then he invited her over.

Doris Bumpus is no Audra McDonald. But wow – she’s a Doris Bumpus. A woman with her own style and powerhouse voice. She too was dressed to the nines even though it seems they were just there that day to promote Doris’ upcoming May 16, 19 and June 16 “Lady Day” show at the Palace.

Doris’ “Lady Day,” like “Remembering James,” are part of the Boxcar Theatre’s one-person shows that they do on Sundays on the off-night of the theatre’s Speakeasy show.

A very clever way to keep the theatre busy, but I’d expect nothing less from the creative genius behind the Boxcar, Nick A. Olivero.

While “James” is moving to the East Bay, “Lady Day” might be ending, for now, June 16.

While Doris knows she’s got big shoes to fill with Audra making the role famous, but if you think about it – even Audra had to take on a legend: Miss Billie Holiday herself.

Doris had been researching for years for a one-woman show she can do concert style and she had toyed with a Josephine Baker idea until she read more about Billie Holiday and know her’s was a story she wanted to tell.

“I’ve been a fan of Billie Holiday since I was a kid and seeing the movie ‘Lady Sings the Blues’,” says Doris.

Doris related to her story about Billie thinking that she caught the eye of a newly elected police commission who hated blacks and drug addicts and he likely targeted Billie Holiday because she was both.

“There was a black agent following Billie Holiday around just waiting for her to mess up,” says Doris. In what she read, Doris feels that Billie Holiday was making improvements in her life but when she reached a vulnerable part, the police just pounced.

The fragile part of Billie Holiday helped Doris decided that she wanted to do this “Lady Day” story as it showcases not just Billie Holiday’s best songs and her last concert, but it captures her vulnerability which is totally relatable today.

When Audra McDonald did the show, Doris took pause until a musical director she’s worked with on “The Wiz” and “Dreamgirls” helped her decide this is a role right for her.

So while Billie Holiday made many songs her own and Audra McDonald brought her interpretation to Broadway and then a larger audience on HBO, here we’re back to a more intimate stage, one that might be similar to the Emerson Bar where Holiday performed.

But this time, we’re able to watch a different star find her moment to shine: Doris Bumpus.

A woman whose voice is so beautiful, that I don’t need to compare her to Audra McDonald, but instead appreciate her for a singer who made me want to buy tickets just from hearing a brief snippet of her voice on her husband’s cell phone.

Doris hopes to find a venue in the East Bay to do the show in the future.

But for the time being, the end of the road is June 16 at the Boxcar Theatre.

Catch one of the final three (maybe) performances by getting tickets at (“Remembering James” has a few more performances in SF as well before it moves to the East Bay.)

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Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for and contributes to as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."

Kevin M. Thomas has 157 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin M. Thomas

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