If you ever wished you could have seen one of the most iconic female rock singers performing live, you can have the next best thing - and more - in "One Night With Janis Joplin," which opens at the Pasadena Playhouse Friday night.
The show, written and directed by Randy Johnson, stars Mary Bridget Davies and Sabrina Elayne Carten. It offers a concert experience with Joplin, laced by stories from her life, as well as a spotlight on her influences, such as Bessie Smith, Etta James and Aretha Franklin.
"The play works as if Janis were magically alive and 27 years old and doing a show for her fans to let them know where she came from musically and features the women who inspired her and influenced her and did all her favorite numbers," Davies said.
Davies, who plays Joplin, is a blues musician from Cleveland. She previously played Joplin in the off-Broadway production of "Love, Janis" and has toured with Joplin's band, Big Brother & the Holding Company. Audiences enjoy "One Night With Janis Joplin" not only because of nostalgia but to experience a time when music was emotionally charged.
"That era was so visceral and so soulful," Davies said. "I think that people miss that really-get-your-teeth-into-it kind of music, and we give it to you with a full band with a horn section and the organ. We have three backup singers, the Blues Singer and I, so it's a wild production," Davies said.
Davies has discovered that several parts of the show resonate with her own life. One is the hardship of obtaining and maintaining a serious relationship.
"This is kind of an unfortunate casualty of our job," Davies said. "Guys can have girlfriends pining for them, waiting for them on the road for six to eight months and they go out and do their thing and its fine, but it's gender specific. We can't expect a man to do that. It's who's your love, is it the art, is it the music or is it a guy? When you're really working your butt off and you're really doing well, you can't have it all. With the music, I identify with her so much because blues meant so much to me and it still does."
Portraying Joplin is obviously a demanding role and Davies makes no bones about it.
"The biggest challenge for me is I am a Janis fan so I want to put on a show that I'd want to see, and that means I really have to give it all the way every night. What that also means is I eat very well, I'm hydrated all the time, I'm quiet pretty much all day and I don't get to party like Janis Joplin. To properly play Janis Joplin, you can't live like Janis Joplin," Davies said.
Davies' favorite tune in the production is Joplin's heart-wrenching version of the Chantels' "Maybe." In the late '60s when Joplin first did the number, she was still coming into her own as a vocalist. It's fun for Davies to sing because she has very little blocking and, without a lot of other things to think about, she can let her emotions flow freely.
Davies' father was a musician and her mother was a homemaker with a good singing voice. There was always music in the house and at family gatherings. Davies danced and sang in the school choir, but went to college without her eyes on a career in entertainment. At age 22, she realized that she just wanted to sing and never looked back, which is similar to Joplin and her decision to become a musician.
"I guess that's what helps my believability in the role. I think that's why the audiences allow themselves to play into the tricks. I'm not Janis, but I am as much as I can be and since I do what she did for a living, it helps," Davies said.
When the run of "One Night With Janis Joplin" ends, Davies will return to her own career. She has been writing and is planning to record a live album. Her studio effort, "Wanna Feel Somethin' " (Mary Bridget Davies Group), has been nominated for a 2013 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Debut Album. Davies also recently recorded an album with Big Brother & the Holding Company guitarist Sam Andrew.