The Billie Holiday Story at The Octagon

9:36am Tuesday 5th September 2006

By Andrew Mosley

AFTER a somewhat shaky start, like a slow-burning gig this touring production warmed up into a convincing depiction of the 1940s jazz scene.

The Billie Holiday Story is half musical-half biographical play, and this shows sometimes as it flashes quickly from one period of the jazz icon's life to another, while cleverly managing not to fall into the trap of becoming a Ben Elton We Will Rock You-style show.

We move from Billie's first forays into jazz to her time as a star of stage, back to her traumatic childhood and her descent into alcohol and drug addiction.

The show features many Holiday classics, from Strange Fruit and Lady Sings The Blues to Summertime, excellently performed by West End star Yaa and the band of Mike Neary, Andrew Venning, Dave Brown and Matthew French.

Written by Brian Langtry and Len Holden and produced by Stephen Leatherland, the show allows for plenty of strong vocal performances from the likes of Katrina Beckford (the rich and successful Ella Fitzgerald) and, in particular, Devon Harrison, whose tremendous version of Paul Robeson's Ole Man River achieved that rare thing by matching the original.

By the end, the show has achieved its aim of giving Holiday fans that rare chance to hear her classics, while introducing them to the unfamiliar and educating and entertaining many in the process.

The Billie Holiday Story is at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, until September 9. Tickets are available on 01204 520661 or www.octagonbolton.co.uk

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