Janis Joplin was lonely. Lonely in the extreme. As she keeps reminding us in this celebratory concert of her life A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN on stage at The Lyceum Theatre that has been done up like a reincarnation of the Fillmore East with neon Darth Vader like florescent tube lights and psychedelic effects (Justin Townsend) throughout. Except when she was in front of an audience.
She appears to have had a normal and happy childhood growing up in Texas with her parents and two siblings. Mom was a lover of original Broadway cast albums and her Dad a fan of the classics who introduced Janis early on to the “library” where she became an avid reader. They read and sang. And perhaps collected small “kitschy” lamps that populate the two tiered stage where a terrific eight piece band backs up our star – with a brass section that rivals Joplin’s own pipes. And then she hit San Francisco.
Janis was just a “white chick who loved to sing the blues” and she certainly was one of a kind. She was also an artist as in painting. And even though the name Mary Bridget Davies doesn’t have quite the same ring as Janis Joplin she sure does a phenomenal job in bringing back to vivid life the Queen of Rock and Roll who died prematurely at the age of 27 from an overdose of heroin combined with some Southern Comfort.
Facts that are whitewashed here with just a few delicate slugs from a whiskey bottle and nary a needle in sight. In this version of Ms. Joplin’s life we are privy to some quiet reflections between her raspy, howling, wailing renditions of songs made famous by the women who influenced her own unique style by a quartet of fabulous singers.
These beautiful and iconic phantoms from the past: Bessie Smith (Taprena Michelle Augustine) Nina Simone (De’Adre Aziza) Etta James (Nikki Kimbrough) and Allison Blackwell as the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin are each accomplished singers that deliver entertainment with a capitol “E”.
The first act finale where Aretha joins Janis with “Spirit in the Dark” backed up by the Joplinaires is sensational. And that might be enough for some.
But not die hard fans that want to relive the days of long hair, bell bottoms and rock and roll with an emphasis on the “blues” sung with the deepest conviction by Mary Bridget Davies with her incredible wild soaring voice capturing the spirit of Joplin completely as she thrashes and whips her mop of hair into a frenzy along with the audience. She’s a marvel of endurance who in her more subdued moments oddly reminded me of Rachael Ray – of all people.
You will gladly leap to your feet and join in the “party” mood that these performers stir up, shaking the rafters of The Lyceum.
But you will learn little about the sad and lonely white chick who loved to sing the blues and died so young. Written and directed by Randy Johnson.
Despite the fact that I was never a Janis Joplin devotee Mary Bridget Davies completely won me over.
www.aNightWithJanisJoplin.com Photos: Joan Marcus
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