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PREVIEW: A Night with Janis Joplin (Ordway)

The original Broadway Cast of A Night with Janis Joplin performing at the Lyceum Theater in New York. Photo by Joan Marcus.

A Night with Janis Joplin, original Broadway cast. Photo by Joan Marcus.
A Night with Janis Joplin, original Broadway cast. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Next week, the Ordway Center presents A Night with Janis Joplin, a biographical musical show on the eponymous singer. Janis Joplin, a self-described social misfit from Texas, became a rock blues singing legend out of the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury scene. She first started her singing career in 1962, but her big breakthrough occurred when she and her band Big Brother and the Holding Company performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 . She had a uniquely powerful and raspy singing voice that could not be ignored. Her incredible singing career abruptly ended at the age of 27 when she died from a heroin overdose in 1970.

Joplin’s music covered a broad range from jazz, rhythm and blues, rock, and country due to the varied singing artists she listened to growing up. A Night with Janis Joplin provides many of Joplin’s signature songs but directs its focus to the legends that influenced her music including Bessie Smith, Odetta, Etta James, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and The Chantels. Performers portraying each of these legends take and share the stage with Joplin’s character during the show.

Things get a little blue in A Night with Janis Joplin, original Broadway cast. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Things get a little blue in A Night with Janis Joplin, original Broadway cast. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The show stars Mary Bridget Davies, a celebrated singer and actress who was nominated for a Tony Award during the Broadway run of the show – and who once toured with Joplin’s original band. Reviewers of Davies’ performances on Broadway have described seeing Davis perform Joplin’s music as the next best thing for those who never had a chance to see Joplin in person.

The influence of different musical artists on Joplin is clearly visible when comparing her singing to that of her idols:

  • Janis Joplin singing “Summertime”:
  • Bessie Smith singing “Backwaters Blues”:
  • Odetta singing “The House of the Rising Sun”:
  • Etta James singing “You can leave your hat on”:
  • Nina Simone singing “Mississippi Goddam”:
  • Aretha Franklin singing “Respect”:
  • The Chantels singing “Maybe”

A Night with Janis Joplin runs at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts from March 29 through April 3, 2016.  

Bev Wolfe

Bev Wolfe is a Staff Reviewer at the Twin Cities Arts Reader. She is an attorney and avid theatre fan who has written theatre reviews for local publications since 2008. She is also an Ivey Awards evaluator.

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