Review Roundup: A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN opens tonight, October 10 at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway.
Like a comet that burns far too brightly to last, Janis Joplin (Mary Bridget Davies) exploded onto the music scene in 1967 and, almost overnight, became the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll. The unmistakable voice filled with raw emotion and tinged with Southern Comfort made her a must-see headliner from Monterey to Woodstock.
A Night With Janis Joplin is a musical journey celebrating Janis and her biggest musical influences - trailblazers like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone and Bessie Smith, who inspired one of Rock 'n' Roll's greatest legends.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: The one hundred and ten year history of Broadway's Lyceum Theatre has seen nine musicals, a couple of plays with music and a few concert evenings grace its stage. But I doubt if the walls of the classic Beaux-Arts showplace have ever felt any vibrations like the powerful full-throated wails of soulful orgasmic psychodelia emoted from Mary Bridget Davies in the title role of A Night With Janis Joplin...Writer/director Randy Johnson's concert-style musical is not to be lumped in the same category with that trio of Beatles imitation concerts that have played Times Square or other such shows that rely solely on mimicry. The ambition is a little higher here, and while A Night With Janis Joplin has its flaws as drama, as a raucous, hyper-energized tribute to one of American music's great icons, it's a joyful explosion.
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Ms. Davies portrays both sides of Janis, I should add. And while she bears a notable physical resemblance to Joplin, and her speaking voice has the same whisper of a twang and down-home earthiness, I'm a little suspicious of that second character. If the real Joplin had the kind of sensible perspective on her life and career that she exhibits in this show - happily reminiscing about her youthful love of painting, or giving a learned docent tour of blues history - she would probably not have died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol at 27...There remains a strange disjunction between the soul-baring singer and the woman calmly telling us that "the blues is just a good woman feelin' bad," or "the blues are a way out of where you are, and they can drag you to where you're going," or "it's the want of something that gives you the blues, man." The Janis we meet in "A Night With Janis Joplin" spends so much time talking about the blues, you begin to wonder when she had time to truly suffer them.
Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press: Legendary blues and soul singer Janis Joplin was an astounding force of nature onstage and off. A new concert musical on Broadway provides a rockin' good time while imaginatively evoking her impassioned, thrilling talent...Soulful and genuine, Davies gives a lively, energetic performance. She captures much of the exuberance and uniquely raspy wailing that made Joplin a musical legend, though she lacks Joplin's raw onstage sexuality and brash, raunchy persona...With dynamic use of lighting, projections, sound design and the choreography of Patricia Wilcox, Johnson creates a high-caliber spectacle around the compelling story of a uniquely talented singer-songwriter who embodied her generation's passionate attitudes.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Mary Bridget Davies screeches up a storm as Janis Joplin. When she throws her formidable lungpower and raspy emotional rawness into "Piece of My Heart," you could swear the tragic supernova known to her friends as "Pearl" had been reborn. But if you're after a contextualized bio-musical to provide insight into rock's first undisputed queen, writer-director Randy Johnson's sanitized concert tribute, A Night With Janis Joplin, is not the place to look.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: As a musical biography, "A Night With Janis Joplin" is pretty much a bust. The book by Randy Johnson, who also helmed, skims lightly over the singer's Texas childhood and her tenure with Big Brother and the Holding Company, with nary a word about her personal life or the booze and drugs that cut it short. But as a concert in which those great ladies of song who were Joplin's musical inspiration join her on stage, the show is something else - a celebration of the blues and those beautiful bruises they leave on the singer's soul.
Linda Winer, Newsday: Well, so much for hopes about "A Night With Janis Joplin." Goodbye to a glimmer of faith that, just maybe, Broadway might restrain itself from flattening this formative rock outlaw into another cheese-ball tribute like the ones that mass-market the singularity of Elvis and The Beatles...Writer-director Randy Johnson and the siblings Joplin left behind in Port Arthur, Texas, have scrubbed her up and domesticated her into just another ordinary '60s chick who idolized black women blues singers, loved literature, sang loud and died fast...Mary Bridget Davies has the lungs, the notes and the screaming moan in the back of the throat to suggest the real thing in "Cry Baby," "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Ball and Chain." But the actress, who also toured in a different Janis revue, is too externalized (and badly costumed) to touch the layers of vulnerability, much less the brazen sexuality that helped galvanize the adventures of a generation.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: What the blues are, exactly, is a preoccupying concern in this musical tribute, which opened Thursday at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre. They can be, Joplin tells us at different points, "a good woman feelin' bad," or "the want of something," or occasionally "the devil himself." Speaking these lines, Mary Bridget Davies, who plays the late '60s rock goddess, is utterly credible as a hippie icon, from her alternately blissed-out and earnest vibe to her groovy period costumes (the latter provided by designer Amy Clark). Yet under the direction of Randy Johnson, who also wrote the book, Night offers a distinctly post-American Idol version of the blues. Davies is accompanied on stage by a band and four other spectacularly gifted female vocalists, who alternate as the backing "Joplinaires" and various artists whose work inspired Joplin's; and the fireworks they provide can border perilously on crowd-pleasing caricature.
Matt Windman, AM New York: No one can accuse "A Night With Janis Joplin" of not delivering what it is promised in the title. Not unlike the recent Beatles tribute show "Let It Be," this marks yet another faux concert in which a performer pretends to be a legendary rock star...But whereas "Let It Be" featured no acting of any sort, the very talented and dedicated Mary Bridget Davies really digs into the role of Joplin, authentically replicating the Queen of Rock's distinctively raw and raspy voice in every song while bringing an unrelenting intensity...It's easy to tell the Joplin fans, who stand up and cheer after she performs songs such as "Piece of My Heart" and "Me and Bobby McGee," from everyone else. They'll be pleased. But what about those unfamiliar with Joplin, as well as those who never liked her in the first place?
Scott Brown, Vulture: Don't expect much in the way of personal revelation or public misbehavior. Apart from sucking on a bottle of Southern Comfort, this Janis is quite composed and sedate between songs. She tells charming stories about housecleaning, her family, her favorite 45s. Johnson's script has been carefully policed by the Joplin estate, which consists of Janis's siblings-thus, it's long on stories about her siblings and short on just about everything else. If an alien landed in the theater, seeking knowledge of Janis Joplin, its report to the mother ship would describe a mild, genial hippie redneck whose onstage routine included the occasional nip of hooch-basically Ron White in combat boots and batik, with a song in his heart...Davies's Janis, it must be said, is nothing short of extraordinary in the pipes department: She shreds her larynx like a woman possessed and still has more to give. It's a close but not Xeroxed impression, and in the narrow interstices between impersonation and performance, she injects real feeling and nuance. This is especially astonishing given the deadwood she must deliver. But just when you can't take another anemic anecdote or whitewashed Wiki stub, she lets loose her "Cry Baby," her "Me and Bobby McGee," and all is forgiven.
Jonathan Mandell, New York Theatre: "A Night With Janis Joplin" is more or less a concert, with some patter in-between the songs that could be called monologues. In these, we learn that Janis's mother was a talented singer in Port Arthur, Texas who decided not to move to New York for a professional career, and thereafter listened incessantly to Broadway albums like West Side Story and My Fair Lady, whose songs Janis memorized. Janis herself at one point wanted to be a painter; her artwork appear behind her. She also read a lot as a child; her favorite was F. Scott Fitzgerald. And she loved the blues, a subject she tells us about with almost scholarly disquisition.
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Where the script goes irritatingly wrong is Joplin's near-lecturing on the blues. "I got the blues because I don't have my baby," she says. "I got the blues because I don't have the quarter for a bottle of wine, I got the blues because they won't let me in that bar ..." Enough. She brings up the blues so much that she wrings the color and potency out of the idea and has you seeing red. Better to let the music do the talking.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Enough of these babyboomer-baiting tribute concerts trying to pass for Broadway musicals! Just months after the Beatles impersonators in "Let It Be" left town comes "A Night With Janis Joplin" - or more exactly, "A Night With Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin," though that title wouldn't sell many tickets.
Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly: It's a shame, then, that this musical doesn't give Davies much to work with other than her phenomenal voice. Written and directed by Randy Johnson, Night focuses on Joplin's musical icons - Bessie Smith (Taprena Michelle Augustine), Nina Simone (de'Adre Aziza), Etta James (Nikki Kimbrough), and Aretha Franklin (Allison Blackwell) - without revealing much about their influence beyond the fact that sheplayed that record until she wore it out, man. There's no trace of Joplin's juicy life - no gossip about what happened backstage at Woodstock or the Monterey Pop Festival, nothing about the night she allegedly broke a beer bottle over Jim Morrison's head, or her romance with Leonard Cohen, who later memorialized their relationship in the ballad ''Chelsea Hotel.'' Instead, Johnson strings together broad clichés from her childhood memories, with Joplin's character insisting that women feel the blues more acutely than men, and that fans love blues singers more after they're dead. During one night of previews, an audience member audibly gasped ''Aww!'' after the latter line, apparently unaware that Joplin died of a heroin overdose in 1970.
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: On a set oddly decorated with clusters of small table lamps, she pierces the air with primal, lung-bursting screams and screeches, storming through such Joplin hits as "Me and Bobby McGee," "Mercedes Benz," "Piece of My Heart" and "Ball and Chain," as well as a deconstruction of Gershwin's "Summertime" that's deeply emotional, if barely recognizable. Davies' fervent singing italicizes Joplin's role as a rock pioneer, a strong-willed, free-spirited performer who was as tough and distinctive as the most notable male singers.
Roma Torre, NY1: Davies' physical resemblance is limited to hair and costume, but none of it matters once she opens up that glorious sandpaper voice. And fans who never saw Joplin in concert, wondering what they missed, should find an instant jolt in this, the next best thing.
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: This exuberant, phenomenally well-executed "concert" avoids the lurid vortex-of-darkness that similar biographical shows (most recently, "Lady Day") revel in. The heroin-addicted, Southern Comfort-swilling, sexually ambiguous Joplin arrives on Broadway essentially stripped of her rough edges.