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Nina Kristofferson Sings Billie Holiday at The Pheasantry

Billie Holiday died before her time, at the age of 44, of pulmonary edema (that is, fluid accumulating in the tissues of the lungs) and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver. That’s the first thing that came to my mind when thinking about Holiday prior to seeing this performance by Nina Kristofferson of some of her back catalogue. It shouldn’t be, of course, because the said back catalogue is quite eclectic and often soulful, but it’s a good reason why a show like this exists and continues to be performed – to remind people that aside from the drug and alcohol misuse was a singer who was popular for good reasons.

Nina Kristofferson - Billie Holiday. Photo by Eric Richmond.
Nina Kristofferson – Billie Holiday. Photo by Eric Richmond.

Accompanied by Allan Rogers on the piano, Kristofferson’s Holiday made excellent use of the performance space, at one point leaving the stage altogether to seek out potential dance partners – not that the audience needed much persuading. After a very brief welcome and introduction, the production lets the music do most of the ‘talking’ for much of the first half, with the second half providing more context into Holiday’s life and times. There were lovers, many of whom turned out to be quite unsuitable for one reason or another. As soon as the Ku Klux Klan is mentioned, everyone in the room knows this is a story that isn’t going to end well.

Kristofferson essentially has two broad categories of audience members to satisfy – those who already know a lot about Billie Holiday (which is why they have come to a show about her), and those who, well, don’t. To acknowledge the key events in Holiday’s life without going into too much detail is a strategy that works here – it is not necessary to pack the performance with everything that is known about what happened. Anyone who is interested in further particulars either already knows what they are or can read up about them later.

Recurring displays of Holiday’s increasingly fragile state were sufficiently dramatic, reaching a hard-hitting (in more ways than one) climax. Kristofferson has a steady and assured voice, and in recreating what Billie Holiday sounded like, it didn’t come across to me as trying too hard, even if there wasn’t much in the way of discernible improvisation, something Holiday was known for. That said, if the show is more than a little unsettling in portraying a life with multiple problems (and it is), this sums up Billie Holiday very successfully indeed. Not always an easy watch, the show allows the audience to enjoy the songs and the music for what they were, and are, while acknowledging a very troubled life.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Nina Kristofferson
Allan Rogers- MD & Pianist

Listing Info
The Pheasantry, 152 Kings Road, Chelsea, London, SW3 4UT 19 February 2023
Wells Cathedral, Cedars Hall, 15 The Liberty, Somerset, Wells, BA5 2ST 10 March 2023

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2 thoughts on “Nina Kristofferson Sings Billie Holiday at The Pheasantry”

  1. Saw Nina Kristofferson’s The Billie Holliday Story on Sunday. Nina was sublime, her voice seemed better than ever, her smoky sultry tones give us an idea of Billie Holiday’s style with a refreshing twist all of Nina’s own. The show itself uses all the hits interspersed with intricate details of Lady Day’s troubled life with accompaniments by the nimble fingered pianist Allan Rogers, it made for a blues fan’s ideal evening of wonderful entertainment. Nina’s other shows, Timeless and her Christmas show highlight Nina and Allan’s versatility in performance style from jazz, to pop and classical but being equally as entertaining.

  2. Went to see a fabulous singer and actress, Nina Kristofferson singing the Blues as Billie holiday. She sang in the cool little venue known as the Pheasantry on King’s rd, Chelsea; and we were all blown away !!

    All I can say is if you’re looking for a seriously enjoyable & nostalgic night listening to some memorable Billy Holiday numbers book this lady the next time she’s in town. For all Billie Holiday fans Nina is a must ! So Thank you Nina for a memorable night and we both look forward to seeing you and Alan soon.

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