(PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Niedle)
Written by Alina Mae Wilson
If you were to head over to La Mirada right now, you could treat yourself to a night of Janis Joplin over at the La Mirada Theatre. Depending on your feelings towards 1960’s rock and blues music, you will either spend your evening besotted or in shock. If you walk in new to Janis (as I did) you’ll probably be in shock. But A Night With Janis Joplin is loud, vigorous, and colorful! If you walk in as a conscientious fan, I have no doubt you’ll leave besotted.
The show begins with Janis Joplin’s back up singers and band, and within minutes we are introduced to the title act herself. Janis performs wonderfully as she sings and waxes nostalgically about the music she was exposed to in her earlier years. She mentions how and in what context these songs impacted her and then allows the original singers to have their moment in the spotlight. After they have completed their performances, she performs her unique rendition of the song — belting it out at absolute maximum vocal capacity.
In the interest of impartiality, I chose to view this show as someone who utterly new to both the history and the music of Ms. Joplin. Looking back now, that may have been a mistake, because it is clear I do not belong to the targeted demographic. The theater goers attending the night I went were clearly more interested in a trip down memory lane than a story containing anything even remotely resembling a plot. I felt like a patron at a comedy club who didn’t get any of the jokes or someone who got the jokes but just didn’t find any of them funny.
I mentioned before that the show was vigorous and colorful, and I meant it. For the most part I consider this a positive. One particularly unpleasant burst of white light from stage right kept on appearing like a camera flash, and which was about as comfortable as having the sun in your eyes when you’re trying to drive on the freeway. This happened a sufficient number of times in Act 1 to be considered irritating. But the majority of the shining spotlights swirling around the theater succeeded in transporting us in the audience to a rock and roll concert hall, and for that I say, well done.
A Night With Janis Joplin is clearly a concert instead of a play, which I suppose should be obvious in the title. But I don’t think you can fault me for wishing that the show had a little more character interaction in it. Whenever Janis is not singing, she is either talking about how important these other singers have been for her all of her life, or she is sitting in stiff silence while they are singing. Allowing them to have their moments of glory is fine and in fact necessary, but I really and truly wish she spent more time interacting with these other performers. I don’t necessarily mean having lively conversations with them either. Simply having a moment where she was looking at them would have sufficed to show how much relevance they had for her in her early years. The one time that a singer she references comes onstage to have an interaction with her, the entire stage comes alive. I realize that these two probably actually had a concert together in real life, but that is not the point. The point is the energy changes when there is more than one actor performing onstage at a time. I mean no disrespect to Mary Bridget Davies (the powerhouse playing Janis), and I certainly mean no disrespect to the real Janis Joplin, but it takes some fascinating, gripping dialogue that Davies was not given, to hold my attention for more than two hours.
The singers were phenomenal. I already stated that Mary Bridget Davies was a powerhouse, and she was accompanied by powerhouses all throughout the night. Consider me blasted away. The audience never declined an opportunity to stand up and rock with the performers. I think Janis Joplin fans should flock to this performance as fast as they possibly can. Yes, I wish there was more character interaction if only to see deeper into Ms. Joplin’s innermost thoughts. Yes, I was annoyed at the gigantic flashbulb going off in my face every few minutes for the first three-quarters of an hour. However, Janis Joplin fans will love the music, and ultimately, I think that is what matters the most.
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