The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp DC Review
One Night With Janis Joplin

“I think I sound like a white chick singing the blues. From the first time I heard Etta James sing ‘Tell Mama,’ there was just something about that ache I heard that got me bad. After all the blues is just a bad woman feeling good.” — Janis Joplin
Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin
(Photo by Janet Macoska)
Janis Joplin, a pop star who sang blues, rock and several genres in-between, was born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1943. The music that was played on the family’s turntable while doing house cleaning chores, veered towards her mother’s favorite Broadway musicals, such as My Fair Lady and West Side Story — songs that were tuneful enough but far too staid for Janis Joplin.

Joplin found herself drawn to other genres such as the soul music coming from African-American churches and bars, even folk. She even listened to the female trios of the late 1950’s, “nice chicks, singing nice songs you could foxtrot to,” the antithesis of Joplin’s hard rock, mike-hugging, loud and deep sounds.

At Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater, Mary Bridget Davies, who even looks like Janis Joplin, gives an excellent impersonation of the head-scratching, hair-tossing rocker. Her voice is strong (and over-miked) and her renditions of the hits Joplin wrote —“Turtle Blues,” “Down on Me,” and “Kozmic Blues” —are both strident and stirring. Her best number in life and in this show remains “Me and Bobby McGee,” written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster. Sadly though some of those great lyrics are blurred as Davies almost swallows her mike.

As good as Mary Bridget Davies is, and she is very good, her performance is overshadowed by blues singer Sabrina Elayne Carten who sings the songs sung by African-American singers who influenced Joplin: Bessie Smith, Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. Carten’s rendition of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is goose-bump enducing. Joplin’s take, although dramatic, is harsh and loud by comparison. Carten has a magnificent voice of great range and a majestic stage presence, particularly in Aretha Franklin’s “Spirit In The Dark.” No screeching. No hollering. Just strong, stirring vocals and, boy, can she deliver. Give this artist her own show, please.

The program lists Randy Johnson as the creator, writer and director and sometimes refers to the work as a play. It isn’t. The patter between numbers is not particularly illuminating. Biographical details are sketchy. This is a concert of Janis Joplin’s songs and the music, lyrics and singers who influenced her. Joplin sings about “the rush” when she is performing, the loneliness when she is not A swig of whiskey every now and then and a fleeting reference to the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco best known in the ‘60’s as a haven for drug addicts, only hint at what caused Janis Joplin’s death from a drug overdose at the age of 27.

Set and lighting designer Justin Townsend shines strobes at the audience and the ambiance of his set is psychedelic lite. Are the sheer bits of fabric that frame the stage supposed to represent clouds of smoke rising from pot, ubiquitous during Janis Joplin’s lifetime? And projection designer Darrel Maloney’s fondness for primary-colored blobs does not do justice to the visual “trips” fostered in the ‘60’s. The eight-piece on-stage band performs well, particularly Stephen Flakus in a rousing solo riff. The trio of “girls,” as they were then called, Laura Carbonell, Alison Cusano, and Shinnerrie Jackson, provide excellent backup singing although their choreography was not nearly as sharp as that of the singers they were emulating namely, the Shirelles.

Theperformers several times encouraged the audience to get on their feet, clap their hands, and join in the joy of rock. Although such self-congratulary movement is annoying to some, it worked well given Arena’s staid audience. By the end of the evening, the stuffed shirt across the aisle from me was on his feet and clapping, albeit out of sync. He even sang along with the encore, Joplin’s deliciously funny “Mercedes Benz.” That’s the power of entertainment.

One Night With Janis Joplin
Created, written and directed by Randy Johnson
Cast: Mary Bridget Davies (Janis Joplin); Sabrina Elayne Carten (Blues Singer); Laura Carbonell (Backup Singer); Alison Cusano (Backup Singer); Shinnerrie Jackson (Backup Singer).
Musical Director and Music Arranger, Len Rhodes
Set and Lighting Designer, Justin Townsend
Costume Designer, Jeff Cone
Sound Designer, Carl Casella
Projection Designer, Darrel Maloney
Band: Stephen Flakus (Guitar/Associate Musical Director), Ross Seligman (Guitar), Patrick Harry (Bass), Tyler Evans (Keyboard), Mitch Wilson (Drums), David Milne (Saxophone), Gavriel de Tarr (Trumpet), Anton van Oosbree (trumpet).

Musical Numbers, Set One: “Combination of the Two/Tell Mama,” “My Baby,” “Maybe,” “Summertime,” “Bye Bye Baby,” “Turtle Blues,” “Down on Me,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Today I Sing the Blues,” “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out,” “A Woman Left Lonely,” “Spirit in the Dark.”
Musical Numbers, Set Two: “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” “Maybe,” “Little Girl Blue,” “Cry Baby,” “Kozmic Blues,” “I Shall Be Released,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Ball and Chain,” “Stay With Me,” “I’m Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven” and, as an encore, “Mercedes Benz.”
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission. Performances September 28 to November 4, 2012. Tickets $45 to $94. Arena Stage/Kreeger Theater, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington; 202-554-9066;
Review by Susan Davidson based on October 4, 2012 performance.

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of One Night With Janis Joplin
  • I disagree with the review of One Night With Janis Joplin
  • The review made me eager to see One Night With Janis Joplin
Visit Curtainup's Blog Annex
For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message
Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show amazon

©Copyright 2012, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from