Friday, July 24, 2015

Janis Joplin Comes Alive At Pasadena Playhouse

Mary Bridget Davies & Company. PhotoJoan Marcus

By Darlene Donloe

It was a ‘happening’ at the Pasadena Playhouse as an appreciative crowd, filled with music fans many of whom were dressed in 1960s garb, came to witness the magic of the musical A Night With Janis Joplin, playing through August 16.

The play is the story of Janis Joplin, a powerful rock n roll singer who took the music scene by storm in 1967 and quickly became known as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Her unmistakable husky voice became legendary as it was filled with emotion, grit and authority.

The show takes us on a musical journey from the time Joplin was a child and discovered her fascination and love of music – up through her time upon the musical throne. She loved the blues, soul, gospel, country and rock ‘n’ roll. The story includes her time with the rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company as well as her style (granny glasses, loose clothes, frizzy hair and hippie style).

Along the way the story points out her musical influences who shared the stage and sang their individual hearts out with songs that deeply affected Joplin and contributed to her growth and development as a powerhouse singer.  

Her inspirations included Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, Etta James and Odetta, all brilliantly and effectively portrayed by Sharon Catherine Brown, Yvette Cason, Sylvia MacCalla and Jenelle Lynn Randall.

Davies, who opened the show with the up-tempo Tell Mama, went on to belt out some of Joplin’s favorites including Piece of My Heart, Down On Me, Mercedes Benz, Cry Baby, Me and Bobby McGee and Summertime.

While the band dominated most of the set, it did include a screen which projected images, including her artwork, as well as a cozy little corner with a comfy chair, a table and dimly lit lamp where Joplin would sit and tell her story.  And what a story it was!

The iconic singer, who died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27, didn’t have a long musical career, but her influence and impact on the culture and music industry was nearly mythical and her story is fascinating.

(L-R) Yvette Cason, Jenelle Lynn Randall, Sylvia MacCalla and Sharon Catherine Brown. 
Photo: Earl Gibson III. 

Everyone in the cast is exceptional! Davies’ vocal impersonation of Joplin is eerie and magnificent! The four talented female performers who join her on stage are mesmerizing and could quite easily break off and do their own show about soul legends.

A Night With Janis Joplin, which is staged as a full-fledge concert has audiences swinging and swaying in their seats.

If the music doesn’t get down into your soul – then you don’t know rock ‘n’ roll.

A Night With Janis Joplin, directed, conceived and written by Randy Johnson, stars Mary Bridget Davies in the title role (Kacee Clanton is the alternate). It also stars Sharon Catherine Brown (Dreamgirls), Yvette Cason (Dreamgirls), Sylvia MacCalla (Rent) and Jenelle Lynn Randall (Kiss Me Kate).

The live eight piece band included the Music Director/keys Tyler Evans, Associate Conductor Andrew Synowiec, Steven Gregory (guitar), Devin Hoffman (bass), James Tate (drums), Lee Thornburg (trumpet) David Richards (trumpet) Tom Evans (saxophones), Fred Simmons (trombone) and Wally Minko (contractor).

The choreography is by Patricia Wilcox and musical direction by Tyler Evans. Rob Bissinger (set designer), Mike Baldassari (lighting designer), Amy Clark (costume designer), Ben Selke (sound designer), Darrel Maloney (projections designer) and Leah Loukas (hair and makeup).

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), A Night With Janis Joplin gets an E (excellent).

A Night With Janis Joplin, Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri, 4 and 8 p.m. Sat., 2 and 7 p.m. Sun through Aug. 16; $45-$115;, 626 356-7529.

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