By George Basler

Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier (BLAST) is offering a change of pace in its next production, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, opening March 1 for a two-weekend run at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott.

The play, written by Lanie Robertson, is a fictionalized recounting of one of the last performances by the legendary jazz and swing singer Billie Holiday prior to her untimely death in 1959. The setting is a small club in Philadelphia before a small audience.

Rob Egan, BLAST’s artistic director, is directing the production. The play is one he’s wanted to do for a couple of years. “Most of our shows are more lighthearted. This has a really strong message in it,” he said.

Ayana Del Valle, a local jazz singer, is playing Holiday. Del Valle earned a degree at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College and has performed at notable venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Blue Note Jazz Club, Smoke and Cleopatra’s Needle. She is currently the vocal coach of the local Del Valle School of Voice.

Del Valle will sing many of Holiday’s best-known songs, including “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “God Bless the Child” and “Easy Livin.” But the play is more than a nightclub act. Amid the songs, Holiday (who was nicknamed Lady Day) recalls incidents in her turbulent life that featured highs but also dark lows of racism, legal troubles and drug abuse.

The play delves into aspects of Holiday’s life that people may be unfamiliar with, even if they know her songs, Egan said. A lot of her story, such as coping with racism, is still relevant today, he added.

Performing with Del Valle will be Matt Welsh, a jazz pianist based in Atlanta, Ga., who plays her piano accompanist and lover Jimmy Powers (a fictional character), who supports the singer as she increasingly veers into intoxication during her performance.

Scenic designer Sonny DeWitt has created a stage set that replicates the faded Emerson’s Bar and Grill which was a real location in Philadelphia, Egan said. To heighten the atmosphere, BLAST is setting up a couple of tables on the stage for select audience members to sit at for the performance.

IF YOU GO: BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier) will present Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill weekends March 1-10 at the Cider Mill Stage. 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m.; the Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m. Tickets at $30 (including fees) may be purchased by visiting or by calling the box office at 607-321-9630.