By John & Jane Meyer
A charter member in a dubious club, Janis Joplin is one among a group of rock legends who all died at the age of 27. This list also includes Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and most recently Amy Winehouse. Janis was a rising star who never lived to see her full potential and like her contemporaries is forever frozen in time; young, sexual, and gutsy.
A Night With Janis Joplin, written and directed by Randy Johnson, celebrates Janis and her female musical influences; Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone and Bessie Smith. Notably, this is yet another tragic “club” Janis is a member of- women who were not fully appreciated until after their death.
The part of the Southern Comfort- swilling soulful singer is played by the very talented Mary Bridget Davies and backed by an equally brilliant cast. This Cleveland native is reprising her performance as Janis in her Broadway debut at the Lyceum Theatre. Davies not only sounds like Janis but also moves like her and is never just doing a really good impersonation of the singer. Davies shows us the rebellious performer’s varying degrees of rawness on and off the stage as she falls further into her addictions.
The physical and musical transformations of the brilliant supporting cast including; Taprena Michelle Augustine Bessie Smith; de’Adre Aziza as Odetta and Nina Simone; Nikki Kimbrough as Etta James; and NaTasha Yvette Williams as Aretha Franlkin cannot be praised enough! Each of these talented actresses endow their musical-as well as equal rights-icons with equal parts grace and strength. Justin Townsend’s light direction bathes Janis’ godmothers and songstresses in very dim and moody light for most of the show which only heightens the soundtrack to Janis’ life when she explodes into song onstage.
Janis was not able to triumph above her demons but A Night With Janis Joplin will remind you of the power of great music and tender lyrics. A Night With Janis Joplin finished its run at the Lyceum Theatre on February 9 but is very close to opening in a new theater soon. Go see it, it will do your soul well. •
A Night With Janis Joplin
The Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th Street, NYC