Exploding energy with a twist of blues and rock.
The sounds of the queen of rock ‘n’ roll are gracing the stage at ZACH Theatre now through March 8. Tony-nominated Mary Bridget Davies brings the legendary Janis Joplin back to life through songs and a series of monologues to the audience.
More like a concert than a musical, I was blown away by the talent on ZACH’s stage. Eclectic energy blasted through ZACH’s Topfer Theatre, as the audience stayed on their feet during parts of the show, clapping along as Davies belted out hits like “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Summertime” – plus my personal favorite, “Piece of my Heart.”
Throughout the production, Davies shines a spotlight on other legendary musicians who influenced Joplin, including Aretha Frankin, Nina Simone and Etta James. The blues and soul vocalists take turns acing lyrics to classic songs, while exploring different aspects of Joplin’s life, including her Texas ties. Davies gives Joplins’ account of why she came to Austin to attend the University of Texas, and the humorous story about how she eventually left Texas, headed for California. The Port Arthur-born celebrity’s rebel spirit is portrayed very well and in a down-to-earth manner, as she discloses personal details and opinions to the audience, even hinting of a troubled spirit.
The casting of Mary Bridget Davies, who originated the title role on Broadway, is nothing short of impressive. Davies looks like Joplin and sounds like Joplin. The raspy, mezzo-soprano voice is very close to recordings which show the late Joplin’s electric stage presence. Davies is all about Joplin and it shows. She’s had plenty of practice. The actress has toured Europe in Joplin’s original band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. She’s also sold out shows across the USA while touring in the Broadway musical revival, “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues.”
Of all the plays I’ve recently seen at ZACH, this one seemed to receive the most audience enthusiasm and interaction, including a special encore at the end. Audience members cheered and clapped at this special tribute to the Texas marvel. Notably, one of the last songs in the musical is one of Joplin’s last creations, “Mercedes Benz.”
Scenery and props for this production are simple, but well done. You’ll notice a few familiar elements when they mention Joplin’s ties to Austin. Candles lit throughout the Topfer theatre created a calm setting, which served as a perfect backdrop for the monologues in between musical sets.
If you are looking to explore a bit of music history, or simply wanting to step back into time for a couple of hours, this musical is an excellent pick.
Because of adult language and a little adult humor, “A Night with Janis Joplin” is recommended for ages 17 and older.
Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online.
Cover photo Kirk Tuck
Britni Rachal lives in Austin, Texas. She has more than 13 years of experience in journalism and marketing. In addition to writing, Britni enjoys traveling, fitness, all things fashion, and serving the Austin community.