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"A Night with Janis Joplin" at the Lyceum Theatre
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"A Night with Janis Joplin" at the Lyceum Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Daniel Chilewich, Todd Gershwin, Michael Cole
et al.

A Night with Janis Joplin
(A Night with Janis Joplin Web Page)

Written and Directed by:
Randy Johnson

Starring: Mary Bridget Davies
Taprena Michelle Augustine, Nikki Kimbrough
Natasha Yvette Williams, Allison Blackwell

At the
Lyceum Theatre
A Schubert Organization
149 West 45th Street

Choreography by Patricia Wilcox
Music Director and Conductor: Ross Seligman
Original Music/Arranger and Director: Len Rhodes
Music Coordinator: Howard Joines
Scenic and Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Costume Design: Amy Clark
Projection Design: Darrel Maloney
Sound Design: Carl Casella
Hair and Makeup Design: Leah J. Loukas
Creative Consultant: Red Awning/Jack Viertel
Casting: Laura Stanczyk Casting
Production Manager: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Press Representative: Boneau Bryan-Brown
Advertising and Marketing: twenty6two/AKA
General Manager: Bespoke Theatricals
Executive Producer: Red Awning
Production Stage Manager: J. Philip Bassett

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 4, 2014

Tonight’s performance of A Night with Janis Joplin left me with a need to hear the real Joplin and a wish that this had been a blues-focused show, featuring the vocalists who appeared in the personas of Bessie Smith, Odetta, Nina Simone, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and Blues Woman. Ms. Joplin had been influenced by these blues singers, as she was feeling blue (she died at 27 years old, of a drug overdose), but Mary Bridget Davies was far less charismatic, compelling, or convincing as Ms. Joplin as were Allison Blackwell, Taprena Michelle Augustine, Nikki Kimbrough, or Natasha Yvette Williams, as the blues singers. In fact, Ms. Davies tore down the fourth wall; she mugged and winked to the audience with such casual disdain for stage fantasy and drama, that I thought she might start a mid-act talk back. Moreover, to add to her dreary and forced monologue and song performance, her costumes were barely changed until the finale. It was a too frugal costume decision to keep showing up in the same 60’s, over-embellished street clothes. She was un-appealing and coarse.

Ms. Davies, as Joplin, talks to the audience about her Texas upbringing, like she’s at a cabaret club, and belts out a few songs, over and over and over. In between, the lovely ladies of the blues enter above and onto the stage with eloquent, soothing, artistic ballads, like “Summertime’, “Down On Me”, “Spirit in the Dark”, “Maybe” (actress-singers as The Chantels). Ms. Davies would then sing Joplin’s own interpretation of the bluesy melodies, but with unsettling loudness, mixed with some true talent that was smothered in over-produced volume. Ms. Davies has an ease onstage and an eagerness to please, but Broadway is not a cabaret or comedy club, and the winking and strutting for the audience was un-appreciated. On the other hand, the “Kozmic Blues/I Shall Be Released Medley” sung by the impersonators of Blues Woman, Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, and Etta James, brought down the house. I immediately wanted to hear it again. Allison Blackwell filled in tonight for De’Adre Aziza, as Odetta, and her “Down On Me” shook the theater with gorgeous song. When Ms. Davies immediately sang what was supposed to be Joplin’s version, for this writer, it was a letdown.

Ross Seligman, on guitar, led the orchestra, better in the retro blues than in the 60’s screeching numbers. (I love 60’s music, but sung authentically and musically). Randy Johnson wrote and directed the production. He could now create a blues show, based on the related, cultural material and vocalists appearing in this musical, one worthy of the small or big stage. Amy Clark’s costumes were right for the blues singers and wrong for Joplin, except for Ms. Davies’ finale. Carl Casella’s sound was, with Joplin, over-spiked and shrill. Lighting by Justin Townsend couldn’t warm enough of this show. Darrel Maloney’s projections should have been front and center and more detailed and intrinsic to the story. Patricia Wilcox’ choreography had little style, except for the retro blues. Ms. Joplin’s story and music is worth another show, but the background blues, as mentioned above, should be spotlighted again soon, and bring along Nikki Kimbrough, Allison Blackwell, Natasha Yvette Williams, and Taprena Michelle Augustine.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at