By Terry Miller
On Wednesday evening, a few hundred Janis Joplin fans, fanatics and music lovers (as well as some celebrities like Mike Tyson) popped-in for the opening press night of Pasadena Playhouse’s latest offering…the truly amazing…A Night with Janis Joplin.
For starters, anyone growing up in the 60’s had to have been exposed to the powerhouse that was Janis Joplin. Absolute energy and hair, lots of hair flowing as she twizzled and turned in perfect synch with Big Brother and the Holding Company and then her own band…this is all recreated with the marvelous band on stage with Davies and her superb cast of singers.
Impeccable timing of all the musicians combined with Davies’ uncanny likeness to Joplin both in voice and appearance sends you back to a time when Blues and Rock and Roll were vital components of many of our lives. Joplin just lived for music…this cast seems to live it too…every second of the show.
Randy Johnson, who wrote this deference, also directs the cast in what is fundamentally a history lesson of Joplin’s life and her strongest musical influences which carved the essence of arguably the single, most important woman in music history.
The carefully crafted story takes us through the “Joplinaires” as well as singers like Etta James (Jenelle Lynn Randall), the great Bessie Smith and Odetta (Sylvia MacCalla), (Sharon Catherine Brown), Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone (Yvette Cason). The women gather together in Joplin’s favorite group, the Chantels. Talk about Piece of my Heart!
The old standards like My Baby and Summertime, were of course hugely popular and presented with the gusto and absolute delight you might have experienced if you ever saw Janis at The Fillmore East in New York. Kinda makes your hair stand on end…no kidding.
Davies’ portrayal of the late singer touched on a high note with her delivery of Ball and Chain… after the intermission. The audience went wild, stood up as if one person and clapped ‘til their collective hands were raw.
Tyson is a friend and colleague of Randy Johnson who directed the legendary athlete in Tyson’s ” Undisputed Truth.”
Steven Gregory’s guitar playing along with the rest of the brilliant band just added another dynamic dimension to an otherwise nearly flawless show.
The Kris Kristofferson song Me and Bobby McGee was perhaps played, for my taste, a wee bit too fast I thought…almost seemed a bit rushed, but the majority of the audience didn’t care or perhaps notice.
Ending the energetic two and half hour show with Drummer Jamey Tate’s bass drum accompaniment and hand-clapping to Mercedez Benz once again brough everyone to their feet.
The costumes by Amy Clark deserve a special recognition award indeed. Stunning recreation of what the ladies who lived and sang the blues all those years ago.
This is a DO NOT MISS play, under any circumstances. If you need an giant and deeply inspirational kick-in -the -pants ( and who doesn’t every now and again),- Davies’, the musicians and cast will send you flying back to a time when music was played on a record player often called a gramophone – not a smart ‘phone. That’s it!
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena