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Room 105: The Highs and Lows of Janis Joplin

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Some called her “The Queen of Psychedelic Soul.” Many proclaimed her as “The Queen of Rock and Roll.” Those closest to her knew her as Pearl. However you refer to her, Janis Joplin was a pop phenomenon of legendary proportions.

Not only was Joplin a one-of-a-kind vocalist, she was a painter, a dancer, and a music arranger. Rolling Stone magazine put Joplin at 46 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time; she was rated 28 on that publication’s 2008 roster of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Though Joplin died in 1970 from a drug overdose, her raw, cut-to-the-bone vocal stylings live on as part of the legacy of the sizzling sixties. Now, So Cal audiences can get a glimpse of Joplin’s quirky charisma and soulful singing in Room 105: The Highs and Lows of Janis Joplin — an original rock musical written and directed by Gigi Gaston – with Sophie B. Hawkins giving it her heartfelt all in the title role.

Although Hawkins’ portrayal is riveting and the live four-piece band can be rousing, Gaston’s narrative is muddled and unfocused. While there are other players sharing the stage at various intervals – David Veach does a credible characterization of talk show host Dick Cavett; Jeremy Lucas is energetic as Seth; Leslie Marrero is intense as Jae; Rae Toledo is daring in the role of Leslie; and Lou Mulford is believably dowdy as Janis’ mother – it would be preferable to unclutter the stage of other actors and create a singular tribute to Janis Joplin. That, however, would entail putting Hawkins onstage with just the backup band and letting her loose with Joplin tunes.

As it is, the power of Joplin's music remains, but it is done a disservice by a less-than-worthy script. Nevertheless, when Hawkins – attired in crushed velvet bell-bottoms, bracelets and flowing  boas of various lengths and colors (costuming by Leslie Shank) – belts out such wrenching melodies as "Piece of My Heart," "Ball and Chain," "Cry Baby," and "Me and Bobby McGee," it's as if Janis is among us and living large.

With overly-crowded choreography, by Bonnie McMahan (who is also part of the ensemble), on the small stage of the Macha Theater (set and lighting design by Douglas D. Smith), we get the feeling of 1960s free-for-all debauchery. The moves are frenetic, muscular, and seemingly mindless – as in that famously quoted line of Dr. Fritz Perls, "Lose your mind and come to your senses."

Still, whatever the dramatic shortcomings of the effort, it is magnificent to witness Sophie B. Hawkins inhabit this role. Hawkins is thinner and more physically attractive than Janis Joplin ever was; she’s also about 15 years older than Joplin was at the time of her death (though the playwright attempts to justify the return of an older, wiser Joplin, in a most metaphysical way). But Hawkins’ voice captures the unvarnished, flesh-scraping, heart-pounding quality that made Joplin such a distinctive sound and sensation. And that makes it all worth it.

Room 105: The Highs and Lows of Janis Joplin continues indefinitely at the Macha Theatre –1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Matinees are at 3 p.m. Sundays. Running time is 90 minutes. For reservations, dial (323) 960-1055. For online ticketing and further information, visit http://www.room105musical.com.


 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.