In a small theatre on Yonge Street, a show is packing a big punch with a new touring production called A Night with Janis Joplin.
A Night with Janis Joplin profiles the singer who's unique voice and trailblazing persona made her one of the most iconic rock stars in music history.
The show is the telling of Janis' life as she started out as a musician. From her humble beginnings in Port Arthur, Texas to her shot to fame in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury, the story is told through the eyes of Janis from Janis, as if she's sharing the story around a group of friends in a living room.
Mary Bridget Davies, who potrays the rock icon, is undoubtedly the best and only choice for the role. Upon first glance (and first listen!) you may have even thought you were in the same room as Janis herself. Davies shares the same unique raspy and rough vocals that Janis had. She carries the same mannerisms, and speech styling like the use of the word 'man' at the end of every sentence, to which, if you've ever seen a Janis interview, she does just that.
The "ensemble" of the show is a very limited group of women who rotate by playing as back up singers and Janis' influences. Influences including Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin, and Odetta. When the influences are introduced, they're dressed as the particular singer and usually perform one of their songs. Interestingly enough, by showing these influences, the audience realizes that a lot of Janis' songs were actually covers from these famous blues singers (like Down on Me and Summertime).
One of the interesting aspects of the show is that she talks about her blues idols, primarily all of her favourite blues artists. What is noticed right away is that she only ever talks about her favourite and influential female artists. Although Joplin admired male blues singers, it's imperative to note the time period where this is coming from. During a time where women in the music business were either controlled by their male management or male musicians dominated the scene.
The audience carried a mix of age demographics, from people who grew up listening to Janis, to those who were just discovering her. Some were still embodying their old hippie spirit with their dyed hair and their peace sign purses as they sang along to the songs in the show. Although the reaction started off slow, it was when the band kicked into Piece of My Heart did the audience begin to respond. The performance was so good that at the end of the song, it gained a standing ovation. Including the finale, there were three standing ovations throughout the whole show, all entirely well deserved.
The fourth wall was broken several times during the show to not only engage with the audience, but to encourage them to sing along and dance if they so saw fitting. With a certain buzz by intermission, it almost felt like everyone was at a rock concert as opposed to a theatrical production.
By the end of the show, there was a sombre reminder when Davies (as Janis) tells the audience that she hopes to be around forever, that she doesn't want to retire. Anyone aware of the rock star's history knows that Joplin met tragic fate on October 4th, 1970 when she died of a drug overdose in her hotel room at the age of 27. It was there that the hopefulness of Janis' spirit would remain. Truthfully, she had built a legacy that would inspire several other musicians, and certainly gain an iconic reputation that would have her remembered her forever.
A Night with Janis Joplin is more than just a sharing of Janis Joplin's life, it's about the music and spirit of her music. Joplin was certainly a unique spirit and no one could ever math the kind of style and charism she shared. Getting a new perspective on the kind of person she was and the music she loved makes someone who's a fan of hers love her that much more.