Thursday, September 26, 2013

A night with Janis Joplin

A couple of nights ago a friend invited me to see A Night with Janis Joplin with her because she'd gotten the tickets free from another friend. Now I wouldn't exactly call myself a Janis Joplin fan. Not that I dislike her music, but that I could really only name two songs by her off the top of my head (millennials really are the worst, I suppose), so I hadn't ever bothered to form an opinion, unless apathy counts as an opinion. Nevertheless, I don't pass up a chance to see Broadway theater for free (or any theater for free really), and I hadn't seen this particular friend in a while, so of course I was in.

It was such a high energy production and so much of it relies on the main star, that I was impressed she could maintain it for the whole of the performance and with so few breaks. The show is essentially her playing different Janis Joplin songs while taking occasional respites for monologues (which my friend said were mostly taken word for word from documentaries or interviews she'd seen). The only times she wasn't on stage were when some of her influences--Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin--were singing instead. All of these impersonators were very good, but Janis herself was phenomenal. I had to go back to watch some interviews with her after the show. The voice, the mannerisms, the way she carried herself; everything was dead on. Apparently because the role is so demanding, a second woman will be Janis for at least two performances a week.

Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin.

It was also just a very fun show, and in many ways felt more like a concert. People were encouraged to stand up and dance and clap along, and the audience was even given hot pink glow sticks with our programs. The set definitely lent itself to a concert feel too, with a band that would move forward and back on a sliding stage and some very energetic lighting effects. If I had one quibble, and since the show is still in previews this might be something they fine tune, some of the staging was just a little off. We were seated in the left orchestra section but relatively close to the aisle, and we couldn't see most of the people standing stage left. Characters would often enter and sing there for a bit before coming into our view. Not a huge issue by any stretch though.

If you're in New York, I'd definitely recommend this one, even if you're (like me) not a Janis Joplin disciple. Good times, great tunes, and spot-on performances. If you're not living in New York or planning to be here any time soon though, well then I think this post was kind of boring overall, so I'm sorry for that.

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