Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Love Janis Rocks San Francisco
Love, Janis has made it to San Francisco after years of playing around stages across this country. One wonders why it hasn't played here before, since the venerated rock icon's life was spent mostly in this city by the bay. The concert/drama piece originally opened at Village Theatre in New York during the spring of 2001 where it received thumbs-up reviews. The New York Post called it "a potent, fresh and enormously crowd pleasing evocation of the legacy of Janis Joplin." It is indeed a wonderful celebration of the artist's short life.
What is fashioned here is part play, part concert, featuring the poignant Morgan Hallett as Janis Joplin, writing and reading letters to/from her parents in Port Arthur Texas during her rise to fame in the 1960s. She talks about arriving in San Francisco and how everyone in Haight-Ashbury is just like her ("I always thought I was alone until I came to San Francisco. I may be Haight-Ashbury's first pinup"). Her letters reveal the singer's unrelenting need for parental approval. She writes about being unhappy and ridiculed in high school, about the novels she is reading and how much she loved seeing Pearl Bailey in the Broadway production of Hello, Dolly!. The letters have been taken from Janis's sister Laura's book also called "Love, Janis." Hallett gives a brilliant interpretation of the artist from her rise to fame to her sudden demise when she overdosed at age 27 in 1970.
The concert segments feature Cathy Richardson, who pours out her outstanding, elastic voice in 19 musical numbers, including some of Joplin's greatest songs, such as the scorching "Summertime" and the strident "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" and "Move Over." She belts out most of the songs with an amazing range of vocal styles, and the audience of Joplin's diehard fans join her in singing "Mercedes Benz." I suppose no one will ever be able to duplicate Janis Joplin's voice, but Ms Richardson comes close to it.
Sam Andrew, a founding member of Big Brother and the Holding Company, has styled period perfect numbers for the singer. The incredible seven-piece band is led by wild and combustible lead guitarist Joel Hoekstra, who rips up the stage with Andrew's arrangements that reproduce the development of Joplin's style.
The Love, Janis production in the tiny Village Gate in New York did not have the amazing projections that appear in this run. Bill Ham has devised psychedelic concert lighting on the back screen. The projections reproduce the volatile growth of the singer in a light-show art form.
Lorraine Venberg's costumes reflect the era's style, from the singer's jeans and t-shirt when she arrived in this city to the colorful hippie clothes.
Love, Janis, presented by Columbia Artists Theatricals, Madstone Productoins in associated with TUS, LLC and Bartner/Jenkins Entertainment, is playing at the Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street, 2nd floor, San Francisco in an open-ended run. For tickets please call 415-771-6900 or on the web at www.ticketmaster.com.