BWW Interviews: Debut of the Month - A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN's Mary Bridget Davies
Two extraordinary things are going down at Broadway's Lyceum Theater. The first is a trip back in time, to the late 1960's, where the unmistakable, guttural voice of legendary singer Janis Joplin is once again heard echoing throughout the concert hall, combining that distinctive blend of hard core rock 'n roll with the rich, soulful sound of the blues. The second is the pleasure of watching the exceptional talent that is Mary Bridget Davies, the 34-year-old Cleveland-born blues singer who channels the spirit of Joplin as she makes her Broadway debut in A Night With Janis Joplin.
Written and directed by Randy Johnson, the show, which officially opened on October 10th, is a musical journey celebrating Janis and her biggest musical influences - icons like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone and Bessie Smith, who inspired one of rock & roll's greatest legends.
Today, Mary Bridges Davies speaks exclusively to BroadwayWorld about her love of the blues, her Broadway debut and why playing the role of Janis Joplin may have been her destiny.
I have to start by asking you about your admiration for Janis Joplin which really began back in your childhood. I understand you once even dressed up as her for Halloween!
So, what was it about her that resonated so deeply with you at that young age?
Well, when I listened to her, I was astonished at the amount of emotional capacity that she had, because I mean people can sing and can have really nice voices, but just how she threw herself on the gauntlet of her emotions, that just killed me, like how do you do that, where do you tap in to that? And I always felt like, 'I want to do that! That seems like it feels really good.'
And I started singing and you know, my normal singing voice is much more pure but I love turning on that rasp and that wail and that grit, it's a great release. And when I started singing I realized that I kind of had that thing as well. And of course as soon as you're a female with a strong singing voice, singing the blues with your own own blues band, that's when people start to say, 'Do you sing any Janis Joplin?' Because everyone wants to hear it, so I started doing it.
Have I honed it over the years? Absolutely! But I always had that desire to do it in the first place.
It's an amazing story. In fact, during the show, it seemed like some people in the audience almost forgot that they were not watching Janis Joplin. Do you feel a certain sense of responsibility playing such a legendary artist?
Absolutely, and that's exactly what it is, it's a huge responsibility. She was a real life person, so people can go back and look at videos, or maybe they even saw her live in concert. She existed - and as tall as the tale of who she was on stage may be, she was a real person at the end of the day, and that is huge. And to have people say after a show, 'I saw Janis in 1966 at the Alexandria Roller Rink with Big Brother and I forgot what that was like until I saw you,' it's like a validation that you are really doing your job right .
And it just so happens that Janis changed people's lives and I think that's what makes it even more of a responsibility, that for some people who are alive now, that was their childhood and that's what resonates with them and the climate of social change in our country at that time. Janis wasn't a politically motivated woman necessarily but she played a critical role in that whole thing, so yeah it's a huge responsibility for sure.