Thursday, March 21, 2013

OH LORD: Janis Rocks in Pasadena

ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS written and directed by Randy Johnson

Mary Briget Davies as Janis Joplin Photo by Jim Cox
In the little gallery just stage right of the plaza at the Pasadena Playhouse is a display of letters and memorabilia turning on the life of Janis Joplin.  In an early letter to her parents she writes about her desire to be a real blues singer, a recognized talent. She won’t settle for becoming a ‘poor man’s Cher.’  The last thing that Janis ever became was a poor man’s anyone.  Unique and driven, the young woman once voted the Ugliest Man on Campus at her Port Arthur high school, enjoyed and was consumed by her meteoric rise to stardom in the 1960s.  Mary Bridget Davies as Janis embodies her spirit and voice with enthusiasm and great joy.  Davies’ voice is similar, but as the show rocks on (quite something for the old Playhouse) she nails the uncompromising spirit of Joplin with Piece of My Heart.  Joplin’s raspy sound must be tough on the vocal chords.

As The Blues Singer, Sabrina Elayna Carten, channels performers of earlier days whom Janis admired and wore out 45s listening to in Texas.  Justin Townsend’s multidimensional set and psychedelic lighting become the Fillmore or the Avalon with a colossal cloud of white tulle loaded with lights blossoming over the proscenium. Upstage features a huge screen that becomes acid memories; an easel tablet for Janis’s early artwork and in the end old photos of the little girl and her Texas family. A nice touch downstage features numerous old table lamps from another era reflecting Joplin’s love of the women, Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone who came before and inspired her.   

The sad parts of Janis's life and her eventual demise are thoughtfully abandoned in Randy Johnson’s well choreographed direction of his own show.  The decibel level for the theatre may have seismic repercussions at near by Cal Tech.  Many of the over fifty crowd in attendance hit the lobby at intermission where a thoughtful staff supplied ear plugs. The well worn seats of the Playhouse seldom stopped pulsating with the high octane retro band led by Ross Seligman including Stephen Flakus, Patrick Harry, Tyler Evans, Mitch Wilson, David Milne, Lee Thornburg and Pete DiSiena.  The audience was on its feet more than once, all rising for the finale which was then followed by a sing along with Janis on Mercedes Benz. Tricia Kelly, Shay Saint-Victor and Kimberly Yarbrough back up nicely as the Joplinaires. 

A packed house to the balcony on a Wednesday night is impressive.  Some folks in tie dye and feathers, clearly Boomers and fans from earlier days were there to rock out one more time.   I felt a little sad when our waitress at La Fiesta Grande, a lovely woman in her late twenties said that the name Janis Joplin was not familiar to her.  Man, I wanted to lay a copy of Cheap Thrills on her and point out the perfect R. Crumb images on the album cover and tell her that if you ever want to clean house in half the time, just put this on, turn up the volume and roll out the sweeper. Of course, finding a turn table these days might be problematic. Time marches on.

This is the sweeter side of Janis and her rock and roll.  Don’t miss this trip back in time.

One Night With Janis written and directed by Randy Johnson
The Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino
Pasadena, CA 91101
Runs through April 21, 2013
General Admission $64 - $94.00 (Premium seating available)
For Information call or log on
626- 356-7529

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