Out and About
A Night With Janis Joplin onstage at Panasonic Theatre (Toronto)
A Night With Janis Joplin is now playing at the Panasonic Theatre in Toronto, with a very limited engagement until February 21st only. After this Toronto engagement the show will tour to 34 cities across the U.S. and Canada for a total of 70 shows. It’s a little bit rock and roll, and a little bit theatre, which sometimes confuses the audience as to what is really happening onstage.
Mary Bridget Davis does an amazing performance, not only portraying Joplin as a actress, but also as a musician. Her stage presence is commanding and powerful, however even as the lead character, it’s her backing band and fellow actors on stage that truly make this an overall wonderful experience.
The show opens with references to some of Joplin’s childhood musical idols that helped to influence her direction later in life. This continues throughout the show as “Janis” reminisces about all the greats that she looked up to and admired as musicians. These include Etta James, Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, Odetta, and Aretha Franklin, who we also find out invited Janis up on stage to sing a duet during one of her shows.
While Joplin’s heart and soul were in the blues, it was a chance meeting with Big Brother and The Holding Company that allowed her the opportunity to be the lead vocalist, that led her into the world of Rock and Roll. As they say, the rest is history, as most people who are aware of Joplin are also aware of the tragic circumstances that took her life at that dreaded jinxed musician age of 27. Feel free to google this if you’re not familiar with that significant age in music.
There are few references to her well-known use of alcohol (Southern Comfort) and drugs (heroin) affliction, instead the focus is on her early family life, her quick rise to stardom, and her memorable early performances during the late 1960’s. The show also brings to light a condition commonly associated with many musicians, which is the loneliness and isolation that often comes with stardom and celebrity creed.
The word “lonely” is mentioned at least half-a-dozen times during the show, and makes one have empathy with this great talent, while at the same time having a great time. The life of Janis is told by Davies through both words and music, each superbly blended. It’s sometimes difficult to separate the two personalities, as Davies becomes Joplin onstage, yet she’s not. When Davies references Joplin stating that she thrives off the energy of the audience, it could very well be Davies herself speaking to the audience. When Davies asks the audience to stand up, the audience ponders if this part of the show from the perspective of Janis, or is it Davies asking the audience to really stand up.
Regardless of whether you perceive Janis herself up on stage or Davies portraying her, it all works out in the end. The first half is more “the life story of”, whereas the second half is more “a concert with”. Davies has the vocals that dazzle and would make it difficult for even the most hardened skeptic so not at least say, “she’s good”. Expect to hear all the classic tunes from Joplin’s shortened career, penned marvelously by the upfront and onstage backing band, and of course Davies herself. Also, be prepared to learn a little music history from the greats previously mentioned above.
Following a lengthy run on Broadway, Toronto is the first stop on this tour, and it’s been an immediate success. Many of the remaining dates have sold out, or are near capacity. Davies has been performing as Janis for many years, long before the age of 27 that Janis left us, and now a few years past. She also received a Tony nomination for her role in this production, and has actually performed with Big Brother and The Holding Company. Beyond the actors on stage, there’s often multi-media image projections of Joplin from throughout her life, her works of art, and psychedelic wavelengths to accompany the music.
The production is conceived, written, and directed by Randy Johnson, the rock musical features choreography by Patricia Wilcox and musical direction by Tyler Evans.
A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN – On Now Until February 21, 2016
Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge Street , Toronto – Tickets: $30 – $99
Ticketking 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333
For Avid Fans there;’s also a Janis Joplin film playing at the Bloor Hot Docs Theatre this week.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.