Friday, April 05, 2013

One Night with Janis Joplin

I love larger-than-life personalities—especially women who are guided by their keen wits and emotions. Sometimes their lives end tragically; but when they’re at the top of their game, they are truly something amazing to behold.

As a kid, I was never a big fan of Janis Joplin—to my young ear, her songs seemed more filled with screeching than passion. Over the years, however, I’ve come to appreciate her bluesy delivery and raw pain. I became particularly fascinated by her after seeing the movie The Rose, a thinly-veiled fictional account of Joplin’s short life, starring Bette Midler, and Love, Janis, a terrific biographical play we saw in San Diego in 2002. Both cover the final days of her life before she overdosed on heroin at the age of 27.

There’s a new Joplin tribute being staged at the Pasadena Playhouse now until April 21: One Night with Janis Joplin. Less a play than a musical concert, it features an outstanding Mary Bridget Davies channeling Janis’s famous gravelly voice as if we were seeing her perform live in the late 1960s. Between songs, she interacts with the audience, telling stories about growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, where she learned to sing the Broadway show tunes her mother played over and over again. When she reminisces about her other musical influences—Bessie Smith, Etta James and Nina Simone—songstress extraordinaire Sabrina Elayne Carten emerges as the “Blues Singer,” providing more traditional versions of the songs, like “Tell Mama” and “Summertime,” Janis ultimately made her own. Right before the intermission, Davies and Carten (as Aretha Franklin), bring the house down with their rockin’ rendition of “Spirit in the Dark.”

One Night with Janis Joplin is a fabulous show that’s well worth the drive to Pasadena (during rush hour!), even if you live on the westside. As I was walking into the theater last night, I looked around at the other audience members and thought, “Yikes! We baby-boomers are certainly getting old!” But, believe me, we all felt 45 years younger when we came out again two hours later.

Click here and here to read L.A. Times reviews of the play.

The real Janis at Woodstock

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