BWW CD Reviews: Broadway Records' A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN (Original Broadway Cast Recording) Rocks with Indomitable Vivacity
It seems that jukebox musicals made to appeal to my parents' generation are a dime a dozen these days. However, there is something truly special about Randy Johnson's A Night With Janis Joplin. His intimate theatrical portrait of the Queen of Rock from Port Arthur, Texas spent three sold-out years on the road before opening to rave reviews and enthusiastic crowds at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre on October 10, 2013. Even though the show just closed on February 9, its magic and energy has been preserved by Broadway Records on A Night With Janis Joplin (Original Broadway Cast Recording).
Most notably, Randy Johnson created a show about Janis Joplin as told by Janis Joplin. In an imagined final concert of sorts, she sings her hit songs, discusses her major musical influences, and even gets the opportunity to duet with the iconic women that were her influences. This is not lost on the recording as a majority of the tracks include spoken introductions, giving listeners brief glimpses into the shows narrative structure. In addition to rocking out with Mary Bridget Davies on the recording, the listeners get to learn from and be exposed to her sensible, perspective-laden Janis Joplin as well.
Like she did on Broadway with her spot on and authentic impersonation of Janis Joplin, Mary Bridget Davies owns every performance on the disc. Whether speaking with the same twangy whisper of the rock icon or belting out the blues heavy rock favorites, Mary Bridget Davies perfectly embodies and immolates Janis Joplin. Furthermore, she fills every song with energy, passion, emotion, and indefatigable spirit, turning the recording into the concert of a lifetime with deft skill and precision. There is no denying that Mary Bidget Davies gives electrifying and thrilling performances on every track she sings. Standout moments include a rousing rendition of "Piece of My Heart," an uplifting gospel duet with Allison Blackwell on "Spirit In the Dark," her vibrant "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)," her tender and emotionally powerful "Little Girl Blue," her toe-tapping and lively "Me and Bobby McGee," and the colorful encore performances of the prophetic "I'm Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven," a song Janis Joplin was set to record, and Janis Joplin's signature song, "Mercedes Benz."
Adding fascinating flair to the recording are Nikki Kimbrough as Etta James on "Tell Mama," De'Adre Aziza as Odetta on "Down on Me," Taprena Michelle Augustine as Bessie Smith on "Nobody Know When You're Down and Out," and Allison Blackwell as Aretha Franklin on "Spirit In the Dark." When not performing these specific numbers, each of these talented performers also offer their vocal talents in other ways across the disc.
Despite being a studio album, A Night With Janis Joplin (Original Broadway Cast Recording) has the spirit and drive of a live concert recording. The invigorating and indomitable vivacity that filled houses at Portland Center Stage, The Pasadena Playhouse, Austin's Zach Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, San Jose Rep Theatre, Cleveland Playhouse, Washington DC's Arena Stage, and Broadway's Lyceum Theatre is alive and well on this recording, making it something any fan of musical theatre and every fan of Janis Joplin can truly enjoy.