As the ultimate in wish fulfillment, One Night with Janis Joplin, now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse, gives fans of the tragically short-lived singer a chance to experience what it may have been like to see her in concert. As stagecraft, it’s nothing short of spectacular.
Created, written and directed by Randy Johnson, One Night wisely puts the music front and center rather than dwelling on the sordid aspects of Joplin’s life. Instead, when she talks to the audience between songs, she describes her upbringing, her musical influences and the circumstances that put her into the spotlight. Mortality is addressed briefly, but the Joplin we get here is the extraordinarily talented young singer who’s still got the world by the tail.
As Mary Bridget Davies, who plays Joplin, said, “The play works as if Janis were magically alive and 27 years old and doing a show for her fans to let them know where she came from musically and features the women who inspired her and influenced her and did all her favorite numbers.”
Speaking of talent, to call Davies’ performance an impersonation would be an insult. She inhabits Joplin: that distinctive voice, the intensity and the passion for the music.
Equally vital is Davies’ co-star, Sabrina Elayne Carten, who portrays all of Joplin’s blues and soul influences, from Bessie Smith to Aretha Franklin. She doesn’t try to mimic their voices; rather, she imbues them with their own style (abetted by Jeff Cone’s amusing costumes). And man, can she sing.
Authenticity is key here, especially when performing such iconic songs as “Summertime” and “Down on Me.” Happily, Davies and Ross Seligman’s excellent eight-piece band are letter-perfect, delivering truly shiver-inducing replicas of the originals. And when Carten’s Aretha Franklin duets with Joplin on “Spirit in the Dark,” it’s a transforming experience.
If you’re a fan of classic rock and blues, make plans to see One Night with Janis Joplin. It’s a rollicking evening of great music and terrific performances.
One Night with Janis Joplin plays Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. through April 21st at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena. Tickets can be obtained here or by calling (626) 356-7529.
Photo by Jim Cox