A Night with Janis Joplin at Parker PlayhouseTo most of us of a certain age, we all know that Janis Joplin became one of the top stars during the psychedelic rock era of the late 1960s. Yet, her roots were in the blues, and it was her mixture of old and new styles that made her a standout. As many performers of her generation, she tragically burned hot and fast, and her addictions to drugs and alcohol killed her at age 27. She’s never really left us, though, and A Night with Janis Joplin, written and directed by Randy Johnson, portrays her story wonderfully.
Kelly McIntyre (Lead) and Katrina Rose Dideriksen (Understudy/Swing) play the role of Joplin. We lucked out and saw McIntyre’s performance, and she is undeniably perfect for this role. She captures every last raspy roar and purr of Joplin’s style – her truly throaty version of Cry Baby and her continual deep resonant intensity during Ball and Chain are definite high points. McIntyre captures Joplin’s allure for her onstage persona. With that Joplinesque smirk and a self-deprecating laugh as she speaks to her audience, McIntyre makes her version of Joplin endearing.
While A Night with Janis Joplin replicates Joplin’s style and sound to near perfection, as a biopic, it intends to tell the tale of Joplin’s life and how her musical style was formed. While those parts barely scratched the surface of her drug problems, the ever present bottle of Southern Comfort was definitely highlighted. Joplin’s between-songs banter was at once humorously literal (“Y’all know I was raised in Port Arthur, Texas, right?”) and glossed over the elephant in the room (Joplin and drug use).
The show definitely portrays that the blues were a huge influence on her style. McIntyre is backed by four superb female singers, each of whom gets turns in the spotlight singing blues classics in character. Aurianna Angelique is suitably regal as Odetta and Bessie Smith and Chantel, while Jennifer Leigh Warren and Tawny Dolley shine in smaller roles. Ashley Tamar Davis does a fine, solemn impression of Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin While these sketches show how Joplin synthesized her blues influences – Odetta’s ballad version of “Down On Me” is contrasted with Joplin’s hard-driving version – they fit the show’s structure, driving it forward. All this accompanied by an amazing 8-piece band, led by keyboardist Taylor Gray, ably recreates the sound of Joplin’s recordings.
A Night with Janis Joplin provides Joplin’s devoted fans, and judging from the boisterous audience reaction, there’s still quite a lot of them, with plenty to like in this high-energy, vibrant production.