Big and Explosive: “A Night with Janis Joplin”

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Mary Bridget Davies in the title role in A Night with Janis Joplin. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Mary Bridget Davies in the title role in A Night with Janis Joplin, now on Broadway. Photo by Joan Marcus.

A Night with Janis Joplin is a smokin’, rockin’ evening at the theatre. What makes this production so wonderful is the bigger-than-life presence of Mary Bridget Davies as Joplin. Her performance is stunning in its exactitude. She performs some of Joplin’s greatest tunes, including “Tell Mama,” “My Baby,” “Summertime,” “Down on Me,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” and “Ball and Chain.” At the end of the latter, the audience was on their feet screaming their approval before the song was even finished.

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Another out-of-sight high point to this musical is the richly talented eight-member band under the direction of Ross Seligman. This ensemble is so comfortable with the music and with each other that when it’s time for the brass section to move from side to side in unison, these guys do it instinctually. Their sound is big and explosive.

Adding more flourish to the production are the performances of Taprena Michelle Augustine, De’Adre Aziza (a Tony nominee for Passing Strange), Allison Blackwell and Nikki Kimbrough as such superstars as Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Odetta, Aretha Franklin and Etta James. Blackwell’s Franklin is flawless as she takes the audience to task, waving her hankie at them for their lackluster response when she calls on them to participate. As Simone, Aziza makes the same smart choice as Amber Iman did playing Simone in this season’s short-lived Soul Doctor. She doesn’t try to exactly replicate Simone’s sound, but chooses to recreate the sense of Simone’s mystique using her own rich voice.

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