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A Night with Janis Joplin

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“My candle burns at both ends,” from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 1920 Poem First Fig is an apt metaphor for the short lightingbolt life of Janis Joplin. Born in 1943, she died of a heroin overdose in 1970 at the age of 27. Nevertheless, the blues-infused Joplin has left a rock ‘n roll legacy that earned her title as “The Queen of Psychedelic Soul.”

In a staging of A Night With Janis Joplin at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (through October 7), Randy Johnson wrote and directs this musical review, which also serves as a biographical narrative of Joplin’s fast-burning life. With rhythmic choreography by Patricia Wilson and musical direction by Brent Crayon, this production has many pluses but is ultimately undermined by its minuses.

First the pluses: The supporting cast is stupendous. The so-called Joplinaires are charismatically portrayed by Aurianna Angelique, who embodies Bessie Smith and Odetta; Ashley Tamar Davis, who performs as Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone; and Jennifer Leigh Warren as a nameless blues singer. Each actress immerses herself in song and distinct characterizations. Delivering soulful songs such as "Summertime," "Nobody Knows You When You"re Down and Out," and "I Shall Be Released," this trio of artist, along with more than a half- dozen consummate instrumentalists, playing the guitars, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, drums, and the keyboard make the two-hour (including one fifteen-minute intermission) concert-like event well worth the time and ticket price.

On the minus side of A Night With Janis Joplin, however, is the actress who plays the title role. Ordinarily Mary Bridget Davies, a Tony-Award nominee, takes to the stage as Janis, but at the matinee performance reviewed, Paige McNamara, an “alternate” actress,  played Janis. Though Ms. McNamara has the bellowing vocal prowess to evoke the Joplin sound, her dialogue was often delivered in an inarticulate manner that was a disservice to the script. And, while on the topic of script, Randy Johnson’s book seems to have been lifted more from Wikipedia citations than the canon of drama.

Nevertheless, for those unfamiliar with the legacy of Joplin, A Night With Janis Joplin will serve a primer to place in rock’n roll history. For those who are fans of Joplin, this show — which features some of the singer’s most memorable music,  including "Cry Baby," "Piece of My Heart," "Me and Bobby McGee," and "Mercedes Benz"— will be an uneven blast to the past. Still, the show reminds us, as St. Vincent Millay’s poem does, Janis Joplin’s candle burned at both ends; but it gave a lovely light!

A Night With Janis Joplin continues through October 7 La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.  Evening performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.  For reservations, call (562)944-9801. For online ticketing and further information, visit Home - La Mirada Theatre

 

 

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.