Brighton Fringe 2014
This is the story of the enigmatic relationship between Billie Holiday and the saxophonist Lester Young and told through some of their own words and the beautiful songs they chose to record together.
As the title “My Friend Lester” suggests, this is not a play about Billie Holliday but about her relationship with and the great music she made with the saxophonist Lester Young, whom I had never heard of before. At the start of the show Maria McAteer, says that she is not Billie Holliday & that the saxophonist Bjorn Dahlberg is not Lester Young thus intimating to us that the show is not an impersonation of Billie Holliday and Lester Young but a play about their relationship.
I am not a great jazz expert and didn’t recognise many of the songs sung in the show. I presume that the reason for this is that only the songs they recorded together are included in the show.
The saxophone playing of Bjorn Dahlberg was beautiful and played at a sound level ideal for the intimate space of The Dukebox Theatre. Maria McAteer says at the beginning of the show that Billie Holliday had a unique voice which she was not prepared to change for anyone. She then has the unenviable task of singing the songs of such an iconic singer that even though we know it is not an impersonation it is difficult not to expect the haunting soulful quality of Billie Holliday’s voice to emerge.
However, she does perform her own interpretation of the songs while telling the story of how two great talents and a great friendship was sadly destroyed by the effects of drugs and alcohol. The play may work better if more acting was involved in trying to act the characters rather than just telling the story.
If you can suspend the expectation of hearing Billie Holliday’s actual voice you can enjoy the performance as an easy to enjoy jazz act while learning about a great saxophonist. It is evident throughout the show that the singer and the saxophonist have a great musical rapport between them which is really what “My Friend Lester” is all about.