A Night with Janis Joplin

Ben Miles Reviews - Theater

“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