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Drake alumna stars in local jazz, theatrical production

“Lady Day” is back for a limited two-week engagement at the Civic Center Stoner Studio Theatre.

The legendary jazz singer is being brought back to the stage by 2011 Drake University alumna Sierra White. White graduated last year with a bachelor’s degree in musical theater and is now headlining the second show in the StageWest Theatre Company’s 15th season.

“I have always been a fan of Billie Holiday, and an opportunity to get to bring such an amazing artist back to life is one that I simply could not pass up,” White said.

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” written by Lanie Robertson, follows the career of renowned jazz singer Billie Holiday. The time is 1959 and the place is a seedy bar in Philadelphia where Holiday is about to give one of her last performances. More than a dozen musical numbers are included with witty and deep personal dialogue about Holiday’s career and life, according to StageWest’s website.

For Ron Lambert, StageWest’s producing arts director, the show seemed a natural addition to the current season of “daring plays for adventurous audiences.”

“The script is strong and has been popular with multiple generations,” Lambert said. “Jazz music has fans from college-age to seniors. It is also a small, intimate play that is perfect for the Civic Center’s Stoner Theatre.”

When taking on the role of a real person, the actor has less freedom to create a character because he or she has to adhere to recorded history of how the person they are depicting acted.

“The process was amazing and terrifying,” White said. “On one hand, I have gotten to learn so much about her as a person and her life before she was an artist, but on the other hand, she is after all a legendary figure in American music, and I have some pretty big shoes to try and fill.”

Drake and StageWest have an ongoing relationship of supporting each other’s theatrical endeavors. Not only is White acting in “Lady Day,” but her voice professor, Andrew Ryker, is music directing.

“It’s so fun working with Andrew (Ryker) again,” White said. “He was always one of my favorite professors at Drake and I am just overjoyed that I got the chance to work with him once more.”

Lambert feels like the relationship is a natural and necessary one.

“Passion for great theater and personal relationships are at the beginning of a good partnership,” he said. “Theater is always a collaborative process, and it makes perfect sense for theater artists to work together, especially connecting Drake to the Des Moines community.”

StageWest has become a strong outlet for Drake theater students to hone their skills in an environment which fosters bold, innovative theatre.

“We provide expanded opportunities for DU students in their theater education, and several faculty members, such as Andrew (Ryker), have gravitated towards StageWest because of the type of plays we select and additional creative outlets we offer,” Lambert said. “In exchange, we are fortunate to welcome more talented and energetic artists into our theater company.”

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill

StageWest Theatre

Showing through Sunday, Oct. 9

Wednesday – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m.

Sunday @ 3 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased at www.civiccenter.org

Discounted tickets available for students with a school ID for Sunday’s performance


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