I don’t know where you were on St. Patrick’s Day, but if you were in Pasadena and didn’t make it to the Playhouse district, you missed one fine party and a little bit of rock history. Even if you weren’t there, part of the party continues on inside the Pasadena Playhouse, Tuesdays through Sundays. You don’t have to be a fan of Janis Joplin to enjoy this concert disguised as a play, “One Night with Janis Joplin,” at the Pasadena Playhouse.
As part of the official opening, the Pasadena Playhouse sponsored a block party that began at noon and went on after the show ended with professional bands and food trucks.
The Pasadena Playhouse stage has been transformed into a concert stage with the band in the background and three Joplinaires to get the audience going before we see Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin. This is the time when Afros, baby doll tops, blue jeans, stringy and frizzy hair were fashionable. The cast makes the time warp back to there thanks to Jeff Cone’s costume design.
But this concert isn’t limited to Joplin’s music. This is a concert about musical influences, how the black female blues singers influenced Janis Joplin and how she translated them into her own style.
First, if you’re too young or too square to know who Janis Joplin was, the story starts in Texas. Joplin was born in Port Arthur, TX in 1943–World War II was still being fought in Europe and the Pacific. While her parents weren’t entertainers, they enjoyed musicals and music.
According to the playwright/director Randy Johnson, cleaning day at the Joplin home was put on the record player and sing with enthusiasm. And Johnson recreates that for us with a little George Gershwin. You probably didn’t expect that at a Janis Joplin concert.
Apparently, her time at Thomas Jefferson High School wasn’t a happy time for her. Identifying herself as a painter, she wasn’t one of the in-crowd. She dabbled in attending college in Texas. It was the sixties and Joplin embraced the rebellion of the times, styling herself after black female blues singer such as Bessie Smith (the Empress of the Blues), Grammy-award winner Etta James and civil rights activist Nina Simone. Two of these ladies, James and Simone, outlived Joplin. James died last year in 2012 and Simone died earlier in 2003.
If they had pain, they somehow didn’t have the kind of self-destructive lifestyle that the queen of the Rock and Roll or the Queen of Psychedelic Soul did. Joplin was a speed freak and also used heroin. This isn’t something we see in this play although Davies’ Joplin takes a few swigs of alcohol from a bottle on stage. We never see her getting addiction tremors or manic. Instead, we’re channeling the sweet side and the gritty raw voice of the woman sometimes referred to as Pearl.
This isn’t Davies first outing as Janis Joplin. She won the title role in an off-Broadway musical, “Love, Janis,” in 2005 during an open casting call for a new lead actress. I never saw Joplin in concert, but her voice is certainly convincing with that painful rawness that contrasts the smooth mellow blues Sabrina Elayne Carten pours out as various blues singers.
Johnson spent time with the Joplin family–only Janis Joplin’s younger siblings are alive: Michael, Laura Sadly, both of Joplin’s parents would outlive her. Joplin died at 27 in Hollywood, California (4 October 1970). Her mother, Dorothy died in 1998. Her father, Set, an engineer at Texaco, died in 1987.
Unlike the Judy Garland piece at the Ahmanson, “End of the Rainbow,” “One Night with Janis Joplin” is about Joplin the performer, Joplin the white woman who sang the blues and Joplin who became a role model for other female singers when rock and roll was dominated by men and male chauvinism.
You’ll leave energized and with a bit of musical education. If you were there opening night, then you also got to be part of one really fun block party. Any other night, you’ll have to find somewhere else to go to put all that good energy to use after you see “One Night with Janis Joplin.”
“One Night with Janis Joplin” will play through April 21, 2013. The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101. The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Single show ticket prices for “One Night with Janis Joplin” range from $69.00 – $107.00, with Premium Seating available for $105.00 – $145.00. Service and theatre restoration fees apply to all purchases. Tickets are available by calling The Pasadena Playhouse Box Office at 626-356-7529. On non-performance dates, the Box Office is open Tuesday – Sunday from 12:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. On performance dates, the Box Office is open Tuesday – Saturday from 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available 24 hours a day at www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org. Group Sales (tickets for 8 or more people) are available by calling 626-921-1161. For additional information on The Pasadena Playhouse, please visit www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.