I never knew Janis Joplin growing up. She was long gone a decade before I was born, and by the time I was old enough to actually be aware of what I was hearing on the radio, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper were the only thing on the airwaves. It wasn’t until high school that I discovered the sound and the soul of Joplin (thank you, hippie art teacher) and it’s been an ongoing love affair ever since. I have always wished I could have had the chance to see her live, and thanks to the return of One Night With Janis Joplin at Arena Stage, I got as close as I ever will to that dream becoming a reality.
Part play and part concert, Joplin (played by Mary Bridget Davies, who reprises her role as the rock and soul singer with such accuracy that there were a few times when I forgot that the woman on stage was, in fact, not the late Texas native) weaves the story of her life and early childhood into the spaces between songs – which included some of her hits like “Cry Baby,” “Piece of my Heart,” “Down on Me,” and of course, “Me and Bobby McGee.” Much homage is given to the blues and folk music that influenced her, and artists like Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin are almost as present on the stage as Joplin is. Sabrina Elayne Carten nearly steals the show as the Blues Singer, and let me tell you, if there is a range her voice can’t reach, it’s not worth going there, anyway. From start to finish, Carten and Davies find every bit of air in Arena’s Kreeger Theatre and fill it with voices that nearly rattle the roof. Backed by the Joplinaires (Alison Cusano, Shay Saint-Victor and The Voice alum Kim Yarbrough) and of course, band Big Brother and the Holding Company, One Night is much more than just a tribute to a legend – the Broadway bound show examines the woman, the musician, and the force of nature that continues to inspire generations of artists more than fourty years after her death.
Although the show touches on some elements of her infamous struggle with drugs and alcohol (there is a bottle of her trusty sidekick, Southern Comfort, within arm’s reach throughout the performance), the tragedy of her early death is left unexplored – leaving the audience free to simply enjoy the time they have with her, rather than focus on the end of her too-short story. We get to live in the moment – Joplin’s moment – and it is indeed a beautiful and bittersweet place to.
One Night with Janis Joplin runs at Arena through August 11th, and tickets (which start at $40) are available here. Written, created and directed by Randy Johnson, the show will have you on your feet. Maybe I never got to sing “Mercedes Benz” along with the real Queen of Rock and Roll, but getting the chance to do it at Arena did leave me with the feeling that I really did get to spend an evening with Janis Joplin. Don’t miss your chance to do it, too.
As the Punch Premiere Correspondent, Lindsey covers all things music and theater related. When not writing for Pamela’s Punch, Lindsey has a seriously sweet gig as Executive Assistant at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov). Aside from writing and seeing as much live music as possible, you can usually find her on a running trail, in front of a painting, staring at her dog, Lincoln, or hanging out with her big sister and fellow Punch Correspondent Niki Clark. Follow her on twitter @lindseykayclark. Contact Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.