Review: A Night with Janis Joplin

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The music of Janis Joplin is alive and well in this electrifying Broadway musical at TPAC, April 15 - 16.

A Night With Janis Joplin (April 15 – 16; Ages 20 & older)
TPAC’s Polk Theater
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
615-782-4040 • tpac.org
Remaining show times: Sat 2 & 8 p.m.
Tickets: $35 – $75

A dynamic, powerful musical journey back through the late 1960s is this weekend’s hot ticket in town — A Night with Janis Joplin.

The musical ran on Broadway for 141 performances from October 2013 – February 2014 and has since been a touring production dazzling audiences spanning several generations of music lovers.

The insanely talented, powerhouse vocalist Mary Bridget Davies starred as Janis Joplin during the show’s Broadway stint and reprises her rock-legend role with the touring production. Together with four other power-piped singers and a tight, rockin’ eight-piece band, Davies delivers a mind-blowing, electrifying performance that is jaw-dropping phenomenal.

Davies’ precise acting skills and vocal prowess present a truly authentic representation of the late Joplin, capturing every nuance of the blues-rock icon’s style from husky, explosive, gutsy singing to Joplin’s signature hair flipping and body language.

The show features 26 musical numbers precisely paced throughout the show, each building more and more momentum and energy along the incredible  journey. Joplin fans were going crazy on Friday night’s opening show with favorites like “Down on Me,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Cry Baby,” “Ball and Chain,” “Kozmic Blues” and Joplin’s only number one hit, “Me and Bobby McGee” (penned by legendary songwriter Kris Kristofferson).

A big part of the show’s magic and appeal is the reverent nod it gives to Joplin’s own musical influences, which were mostly a few pioneering women of blues and soul. Several numbers woven throughout the production are show stoppers performed by Cicily Daniels (Odetta/Bessie Smith/Chantel), Tawny Dolley (Etta James/Chantel), Q. Smith (Aretha Franklin/Nina Simone) and Jennifer Leigh Warren (Blues Singer/Chantel).

While most of the show is dedicated to the musical performances in a 1970 concert setting, Joplin shares snippets of the blues influences on her life along with brief banter about her siblings, her love of painting and being scorned by men, ultimately sharing that her passion for the blues that it makes you feel.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the show is experiencing a couple of numbers with their original versions that were favorites of Joplin’s before she put her own indelible stamp on them. The audience’s first taste of “Summertime” and “Down on Me” are beautifully performed by Warren (Blues Singer) and Daniels (Odetta), respectively, before Davies presents Joplin’s unforgettable rocked up versions with gusto.

A Night with Janis Joplin focuses on the music without being fully biographical. The show doesn’t go into the tragic side of Joplin’s troubled life with addiction, and some critics say this presents a “sanitized version” of the late singer. However, the music itself stands the test of time, and it’s a powerful performance from start to finish that will captivate long-time Joplin fans while engaging those who aren’t as familiar with her music.

 

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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