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Love, Janis

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Essentially a rock concert with some dialogue, Love, Janis, the new show at the Village Theater, was created by Joplin's sister, Laura, to show a side of the legendary singer you may not have known existed. If you're looking for a detailed, intelligent study of her life, though, you should probably look elsewhere.

If, however, you primarily care about her music, Love, Janis is for you. The songs are what the show is all about and nineteen of them appear in the show. "Piece of My Heart," "What Good Can Drinking Do?," "Let the Good Times Roll," "Mercedes Benz," "Get It While You Can," and many others all make an appearance.

Lest you worry that no one could step into Janis Joplin's shoes when it comes to singing those songs, you have nothing to fear. The singing is provided by two performers who alternate performances in the role, Andra Mitrovich and Cathy Richardson.

At the performance I attended, Richardson sang Joplin, and did quite well. With a very powerful voice, she made her way through the entire show without missing a beat, selling each song for all she was worth. Even when she was required to speak, her non-singing voice and acting were still in top form.

Most of the time, though, she didn't speak. The central conceit of Love, Janis, is that there were two different versions of Janis Joplin. One, the professional performer, who put on a certain face (and voice) to the world, and the other more private woman who wrote letters home to her family, and faced an uncertain future. Both appear onstage in this show, and the private Janis, who never sings, was portrayed by Catherine Curtin.

Hence, the main problem with the show. Curtin, though she works very hard, doesn't get to the emotional core of Janis. Granted, Curtin gets little support from her material, most of which was originally in the form of written letters never meant to be spoken aloud, but she has none of the inner fire that Richardson displays, and does not demonstrate how the private and the public Janis are one and the same.

Whether she will be speaking or singing, Richardson made the much stronger impact, and created a fuller, more interesting character. Even she, though, is sabotaged by some of what is attempted in the production. As good as Richardson is, she can't help make sense of the scenes where she and Curtin are onstage at the same time, talking to each other or an offstage interviewer, voiced by Seth Jones.

The music is well performed by Richardson and the seven musicians that back her up throughout the story. Robert Blackman's costumes and Bo G. Eriksson's projections frequently help set the scene well, and Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer's production design helps turn the theater into a rock concert. Tony Meola's sound system - fitting in perfectly - makes sure your eardrums will not leave intact.

Though obviously a love letter to her sister, Laura Joplin has not managed to make Love, Janis meaningful or relevant to those with little familiarity to the woman or her music. If you wish to understand Janis Joplin, you can do it just as easily listening to collections of her songs as you can at the Village Theater.

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Love, Janis
The Village Theater, 158 Bleecker Street
Tuesday through Sunday at 8:00 PM, Saturdays at 2:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
Ticket prices: $30-75
Ticketmaster: (212) 307-4100