Actress Audra McDonald to appear in Billie Holiday show on HBO

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[December 18, 2014]  NEW YORK (Reuters) - Six-time Tony-award winning singer and actress Audra McDonald will reprise her role as legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in the hit Broadway show "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" in a special for HBO, the cable network said on Wednesday.

McDonald will begin filming the play before a live audience in New Orleans this month. It is based on Holiday's performance, one of her last, at a small Philadelphia bar shortly before her death in 1959 at the age of 44.

The singer, who won a best-actress Tony for her performance in the show, which was written by Lanie Robertson, became the only woman to win a Tony in all four acting categories and six competitive awards.

She also tied with the late actress Julie Harris, who had six wins, including a special lifetime achievement award.

"Playing Billie Holiday in 'Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill' on Broadway was one of the most challenging and artistically rewarding experiences of my career, and it is an absolute honor to be able to bring Lanie's incredible work about this extraordinary women to film, thanks to HBO," McDonald said in a statement.

Holiday is considered one of the greatest jazz singers ever. She was nicknamed "Lady Day" by saxophonist Lester Young. The show depicts her life through songs such as "God Bless the Child," "Crazy He Call Me" and "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," as well as reminiscences with the audience.

The film will be directed by Lonny Price, who also helmed the Broadway show, according to HBO, a unit of Time Warner Inc.

No date for the airing of the special has been set.

The play, which debuted off-Broadway about 30 years ago, opened on Broadway in April and was extended several times before closing in August.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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