VIVA JANIS!

Holy revival Batman!  There is a nightly resurrection going on every night at The Lyceum Theatre.   In an era when rock titans such as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison walked the earth and groups like The Who asked to die before they got old, a little lady from Texas with extraordinary chops offered up pieces of her heart and become just as legendary as the boys –her name was Janis Joplin.

J3Janis Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1943.  She was raised in a cocoon of various musical influences courtesy of her mother and father.  When she finally did spread her wings, she flew to San Francisco in 1963.  She briefly returned to Texas only to go back to California in 1966 to join Big Brother and the Holding Company as their lead singer.  By the time of Joplin’s untimely death in October 1970, she had ensured her legacy as a rock goddess and with her unique interpretation of songs, one of the most recognizable voices ever.

I don’t think the world needed any reminders about the raw power and beauty of Janis Joplin’s voice, but in case it did A Night with Janis Joplin served a stunning aide-mémoire.  This production is a hot rocking time capsule.  Once it starts the audience is shuttled back to the Age of Aquarius with one of its most colorful figures as mistress of ceremonies.

J2I expected A Night with Janis Joplin to typical a jukebox musical chronicling the highs and lows of Joplin’s life with the musical numbers accentuating the book.  I was pleasantly surprised.  A Night with Janis Joplin is more like a concert and is all about the music, mainly the singers that influenced Joplin’s sound – singers like Nina Simone, Bessie Smith and Etta James.  Even the Queen of Soul was present to do a number with Janis that injected everyone in the audience with the spirit. Mary Bridget Davies is nothing short of phenomenal as Janis Joplin, it’s like she comes from another plane.  For an individual who didn’t get the opportunity to experience Janis Joplin when she was alive, Davies’ performance is awe inspiring. Taprena Michelle Augustine, De’Adre Aziza, Allison Blackwell and Nikki Kimbrough round out the cast of ladies on stage playing The Joplinaires as well as The Chantels, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin –their voices soar to right out of the theater and up to heaven.

A Night with Janis Joplin is a loving tribute to music of the Pearl and the strong, mainly unsung women that inspired her.  There was never a point in the show where I wanted to be contained in my seat, my feet never stopped tapping.  I wanted to sway, shake and move in the aisle and enjoyed watching the audience becoming part of the show and singing along.  Hearing “Me and Bobby McGee”, “Ball and Chain” and “Stay with Me” performed live brought me to tears.   Mary Bridget Davies doesn’t just sing she performs a séance.  A Night with Janis Joplin is a prime example of how music can transport and uplift the soul.  It’s a must see.

Photos: Joan Marcus

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