Davies is no stranger to the music of Janis Joplin as she sang with the reunited Big Brother and the Holding Company and toured with the Joplin musical “Love Janis” so she is able to channel both the passion and the edge to Joplin’s music. Stevie Nicks’ description of Joplin’s music is really what the show is about: “she mak[es] such a powerful and deep emotional connection with the audience…Janis put herself out there completely, and her voice was not only strong and soulful, it was painfully and beautifully real. She sang in the great tradition of the rhythm and blues singers that were her heroes, but she brought her own dangerous, sexy rock and roll edge to every single song.”
While Davies nails her portrayal of Joplin, the four blues singers give equally powerful performances. Nikki Kimbrough portrays Etta James and her version of “Tell Mama” transitions into to Joplin's rendition. De’Adre Aziza portrays Odette (who sings “Down on Me”) and this song also transitions into Joplin's rendition. Taprena Michelle Augustine, who portrays Bessie Smith, sings “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. The most powerful performance of the four is the explosive duet between Allison Blackwell (who plays Aretha Franklin/Blues Woman) and Davies on “Summertime”
The set at the Lyceum is a recreation of a concert stage – where Davies and her backup singers (who also take solos as the blues singers that inspired Joplin) spend most of their show. There is also living room set on the right side of the stage where Davies, alongside her Southern Comfort bottle, take time to narrate the different events in Joplin’s life. Davies talks a lot about having the blues but there is no explicit mention of the demons that Joplin seemed to be exorcising by singing the blues. Having the blues seems to be an everyday occurrence for Joplin and causes range from ‘I got the blues because I don’t have the quarter for a bottle of wine’ to ‘the blues is just a good woman feeling bad’.
The narration isn’t much more than the basic back story for that particular point in Joplin’s life as there is no digging into Joplin’s booze and drugs addiction or her broken romances. Given this, the audience may not appreciate the symbolic reference in Davies’ performance of ''I'm Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven,”, which was a song intended for Joplin’s Pearl album but was never recorded due to the singer’s untimely death. All of Joplin’s crowd pleasing hits are performed along with a few blues numbers and the show ended with a standing ovation as the entire cast backed Davies through an a cappella rendition of “Mercedes Benz”. All-in-all, this is a feel good story about the power of music and the emotional connection between a singer and the audience.
“A Night with Janis Joplin” is currently running at the Lyceum Theatre (149 W. 45th Street). The show runs for two hours (not including intermission) and tickets range from $49 - $199. Tickets are on sale through March 30, 2014.
A Night with Janis Joplin