Sunday, October 20, 2013

Take Another Little Piece of My Heart Now Janis

"People like their blues singers miserable...and dead," or at least that's what Mary Bridget Davies tells us as Janis Joplin. I'm not old enough to have experienced Joplin in her heyday, but I feel like I caught a glimpse of her world last Tuesday night at A Night with Janis Joplin at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway. I have to say that those who were of her generation got the most out of the show, particularly (hey girl hey) the woman three rows ahead of me in the mezzanine who couldn't stop dancing in her seat.

Structurally, the show is bizarre. Janis (Mary Bridget Davis) sits down in her Texas-sized chair with a bottle of SoCo, tells a story about her past, and then segues into a song. The odd part is that sometimes she sings her own songs and sometimes she relives one of her idols singing their songs. Hearing the music of Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin to name a few was a pleasant surprise for me. We see two very distinct Janises. We have Janis the electrifying performer, and Janis the reflective thinker who, on the surface, seems like your quirky best friend. I take issue with the fact that Randy Johnson's book makes Janis appear so calm and calculated, nothing like the woman who died much too young of a drug overdose.

Aside from the nonsensical book, this show really is enjoyable. Okay, so it's probably more Vegas than Broadway and the sets and costumes were all borrowed from a regional production of Hair, but I was entertained and so was the rest of the very full house. Mary Bridget Davies is a revelation as Janis Joplin. She has all of her tendencies and inflections down pat, and girlfriend just plain sings her face off. Her Cry Baby and Stay With Me are religious experiences, though I question how she can maintain that level of vocal performance deep into the run. I certainly wouldn't want to see an understudy when I just saw the reincarnation of Janis Joplin herself.

A Night With Janis Joplin
Starring Mary Bridget Davies
Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th Street
Writer/Dirctor: Randy Johnson
Choreographer: Patricia Wilcox
Scenic & Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Costume Design: Amy Clark
Sound Design: Carl Casella
Production Design: Darrel Maloney

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