Los Angeles/Tour Theater Review: ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN (Pasadena Playhouse)

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by Jesse David Corti on March 24, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Break out the Southern Comfort and feathered boa, One Night with Janis Joplin is a helluva concert experience presented at the Pasadena Playhouse. Writer-director-creator Randy Johnson offers a celebration of the biographical-musicological journey of Janis Joplin through a psychedelic prism and accents it with 21st century theatrics. No tragedy here, just a one-off performance from the icon. The show Jesse David Corti’s Stage and Cinema review of “One Night with Janis Joplin” Pasadena Playhouse and tour.focuses on Janis’ musical roots and inspirations to provide context and greater appreciation for her creative output and signature style. The set list covers the essential Joplin classics with a few deep cuts from other blues singers’ catalogs to spice up the evening.

Mary Bridget Davies transcends mere characterization and operates in that rarified air of elite performers as an incarnation of late blues legend Janis Joplin. Her physicality and boogie-woogie wiggling definitely capture her essence. Whether it’s rapping to the audience with her idiosyncratic sassy, earthy, spontaneous, heartfelt philosophizing and storytelling, or blowing the audience away with the iconic kitchen-sink singing ways of Pearl, she absolutely nails it. My favorite selection was “Cry Baby”: It penetrated right through my soul and put chills down my spine. Davies grabs hold of you at the start and never loses her grip.

She is well matched with the outstanding Sabrina Elayne Carten, who has the gargantuan task of personifying not one, but four prolific blues/soul songstresses: Bessie Smith, Etta James, Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin. And yes, she does honor those four exceptional women by knocking it out of the park with powerful, soul-stirring singing. She brought the house down as Aretha, simmered smoothly as Nina, hypnotized with her rhapsodic Bessie, and effortlessly handled Etta. The most spellbinding moment occurred when she sang “Summertime” in its original, Jesse David Corti’s Stage and Cinema review of “One Night with Janis Joplin” Pasadena Playhouse and tour.operatic arrangement: A collective hush fell over the crowd as we all marveled at her exquisite interpretation and smooth, polished delivery. The Joplinaires (Tricia Kelly, Shay Saint-Victor, and Kimberly Yarbrough) provided soulful backing vocals and groovy backup dancing.

Ross Seligman does an excellent job as Bandleader and Music Supervisor; the band handled a variety of styles from blues to rock to soul to psychedelic rock to psychedelic soul and jazz with precision and verve. Carl Casella’s sound design has bite; the band is hot and the vocals cut through just right. Jeff Cone’s costumes are era-accurate and fun. Justin Townsend’s lighting design is delightfully psychedelic; heavy on magenta, purple, and fuchsia. Townsend’s minimal set has splashes of flair; there’s a white, garter-like half-circle foliage situated on the front walls in front of the stage, above the performers are a scaffolding that is effectively used for dramatic entrances and exits, and a colorful screen where Darrel Maloney’s kaleidoscopic projections are shown (one gem includes original art by Janis Joplin as a teenager).

Slight on storytelling, One Night relies on its concert setting and the strength of the singers’ performances to carry the production; they pull it off with surprising success. While it may be more effective to maintain the tradition of a rock concert and remove the intermission to keep the propulsive piece in motion, Randy Johnson’s One Night with Janis Joplin is an excellently executed piece of entertainment that is always captivating and quite enjoyable.

Jesse David Corti’s Stage and Cinema review of “One Night with Janis Joplin” Pasadena Playhouse and tour.photos by Janet Macoska

One Night with Janis Joplin
Pasadena Playhouse
scheduled to end on April 11, 2013
for tickets, call 626-356-7529 or visit http://www.PasadenaPlayhouse.com

then plays
Milwaukee Rep May 3 – June 2
Washington, DC Arena Stage June 21 – August 11
for production and tour information, visit http://www.OneNightWithJanisJoplin.com

{ 1 comment }

April Snow March 24, 2013 at 10:50 am

Great writing Jesse! I’ve been wanting to see this and now I REALLY want to see it. I’m definitely buying tix 🙂

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