Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

One Night with Janis Joplin
Cleveland Play House

"Queen of rock 'n' roll" and "Queen of the Blues" are titles that have been bestowed on Janis Joplin (1943-1970). The life-force of the Port Arthur, Texas, native returns to the stage in One Night with Janis Joplin, which is playing in the Allen Theatre, Cleveland Playhouse, PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland, through August 29, 2012.

One Night with Janis Joplin evokes the spirit and sound of the famous singer. The script was created, written and directed by Randy Johnson. Audience members must remember this production is a play, with a written script and several cast members. On the night I saw the production, some audience members thought they were attending a concert and called out the names of their favorite Joplin hits. The script is structured with Joplin (Mary Bridget Davies) telling the story of her life in monologues that thoughtfully fit between her singing various songs that were her successes. On a screen on the up-stage wall, photographs are projected of Joplin at various points in her life.

The character named The Blues Singer (Sabrina Elayne Carten) represents Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone, two of Joplin's idols. On occasions, Carten sings as herself. She has a powerful voice and a strong stage presence. Finally, three background vocalists sing as a trio and, sometimes, sing alone. An eight-piece band accompanies the singers.

Mary Bridget Davies plays Joplin. She has the Joplin sound—rough, ragged, energetic and emotional—and evokes Joplin with help from the costumes and wigs. In the final scene, she makes an entrance down a flight of stairs, wearing a Joplin-esque costume, including a red feather boa anchored in her long hair.

The singers and instrumentalists bring the Joplin era to life. This is an excellent, must-see production for those who remember this iconic singer's performances. Those who missed the Joplin years will get a major education, spending a night with Janis Joplin.

Justin Townsend (scenic and lighting designer) has created an intriguing set. A large platform is covered with carpets and decorated with table lamps. The band is on a second platform that moves in and out to join the carpeted platform. On stage left is a sofa, where Joplin sits to tell the story of her life in the monologues. The proscenium is surrounded with ruffled gray material (chiffon, perhaps), which is probably to represent the smoke that may have floated up from the audience and/or the performers.

The 2011 world premiere of One Night with Janis Joplin was produced and performed at Portland Center Stage, Portland, Oregon.

One Night with Janis Joplin, through August 19 in the Allen Theatre at Cleveland Play House. Ticket Information: 216-795-7000. After the show completes its run in Cleveland, it will move to the Arena Stage, Washington, D. C., where it is scheduled to play September 28 through November 4, 2012.

The 2012-2013 season of The Cleveland Play House will include Lombardi (September 14 —October 2012), The Whipping Man (November 2–25, 2012), A Carol for Cleveland (November 30 —December 23, 2012), The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith (February 15 - March 10, 2013), Good People (March 22 —April 14, 2013) and Rich Girl (April 19 - May 12, 2013).

The Allen Theatre
The Cleveland Play House
One Night with Janis Joplin
July 27 —August 19
Created, Written and Directed by Randy Johnson
Musical Director and Arranger: Len Rhodes
Janis Joplin: Mary Bridget Davies
The Blues Singer: Sabrina Elayne Carten
Background Vocalist/Janis Joplin Understudy: Laura Carbonell
Background Vocalist/Blues Singer Understudy: Shinnerrie Jackson
Guitar/Associate Music Director: Stephen Flakus
Keyboard: Tyler Evans
Bass:Patrick Harry
Drums/Band Leader:Mitch Wilson
Trumpet: Anton Van Oosbree and Gavriel de Tarr
Saxophone: David Milne
Guitar: Ross Seligman
Wig Assistant/Dresser: Caitie Martin
Scenic and Lighting Designer: Justin Townsend
Costume Designer: Jeff Cone
Sound Designer: Carl Casella
Projection and Video Designer: Darrel Maloney

- David Ritchey

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