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BWW Interview: A Night With De'Adre Aziza (and Janis Joplin)

De'Adre Aziza, who portrays multiple characters in A Night With Janis Joplin is stunned every performance by Mary Bridget Davies' pitch-perfect re-creation of the blues-rock megastar.

"Oh man, I mean, I think the music is incredible and I love it. Her singing is stunning," Aziza said. With a background that includes scoring a Tony nomination for the rock musical PASSING STRANGE among other honors, Aziza is grateful to be part of this bombastic production.

"I've become more of a fan of the trombone after hearing the horn section play so beautifully," she said of the band. "The trumpet used to be my favorite horn but lately I find that I just love the sound of the trombone."

The show re-creates a Joplin road gig, with backup singers called Joplinaires. They provide a soaring, soul-stirring complement to Davies' blistering vocals. Joplin's roots in the blues are portrayed by iconic artists from the past, played by the Joplinaires: Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Odetta and Aretha Franklin. "They were all icons of music and they all had to go through a lot in the industry in order to achieve their goals," Aziza said.

Aziza's classical music background aided her appreciation of all types of music, including blues.

"I took classical piano at age 4," she said. "And I grew up with a lot of music in my consciousness. I was also exposed to African drumming and my favorite hobby was to listen to albums over and over again." She's a big fan of Al Jarreau, Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper.

Aziza's love of the dramatic arts also came early. "I didn't plan on being an actor," said Aziza, a Teaneck, N.J., native. "I took acting in high school for fun. I discovered I really liked it; it was a lot of fun."

A NIGHT WITH Janis Joplin has challenged Aziza in many ways, including her portrayal of Nina Simone and Odetta. When she impersonates these historical greats, she considers the lyrics sheer poetry. "I think about portraying them as poets, not just singers."

The heart of this show is, of course, Janis Joplin as channeled through Davies' uncanny interpretation. "This show is about the soul of this woman." Aziza said. "She was a bold soul and to pass away at age 27 is just tragic. I can imagine the ache and pain she had by listening to her voice.

"People might say, 'She came from a middle-class family, what did she have the blues about?'" Aziza asked. "Well, we can have the blues regardless of our background."

Her favorite moments on stage are hard to narrow down, she said. Her duos with Davies are top choices. "Having these private, intimate connections is powerful.

"Another favorite is when we sing 'Spirit in the Dark,' with all these crazy sequins."

The show is so energizing and moving that the audience often breaks out in applause and shouts. "You'd have to be a zombie not to feel the soul and passion from this musical," she said.

Although the production downplays Joplin's fatal 1970 overdose, it's an undercurrent, Aziza said. "I hope audiences walk away with an understanding that there are two sides to every person. If someone has an addiction, it's just a part of that person's essence."

Ultimately, the show is life-affirming and upbeat. "If you love music and you come and listen to these arrangements," said Aziza, "you will get lost in it."

A Night with Janis Joplin is playing at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.

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From This Author Naomi Serviss