My wife and I ventured to Durham this week and caught a sensational tribute to the late Janis Joplin. starring Mary Bridget Davies as the lead. She does a breathtakingly exciting and vulnerable impersonation of Joplin. When she broke into “Summertime,” with her bluesy variation of the “Porgy and Bess” song, we knew we were in for a treat. But, when she rocked us with “Piece of My Heart,” we felt that Joplin was indeed with us as she left everything on the stage.
The show is not just about Joplin, as in character, Davies speaks of her influences ranging from Bessie Smith to Etta James to Aretha Franklin to Nina Simone. Four very talented singers occupied the stage in tribute to these wonderful talents. My wife and I both thought it was done, in part, as singing as Joplin would take a toll on you if you sang for two hours plus. We also heard the variation between the operatic and bluesy “Summertime.” Plus, Joplin was influenced by Broadway show songs that her mother would play as they cleaned the house every Saturday with her brother and sister.
Joplin had a unique voice that was powerful, but bluesy and soulful, at the same time. Like a great blues singer, her voice was indeed an instrument and she held nothing back. If I had to equate it with someone else, she would be a female James Brown, in that she would give it all with her voice, body and expressions Plus, Davies did a great job with Joplin’s stage presence and frank language, so we truly felt we were seeing Joplin in person.
We heard renditions of “Cry Baby,” which was sensational, “Try, just a little bit harder,” which was spot on, and “Me and Bobby McGee,” which had us all singing along. She ended the show after the accolades and applause, with a capella version of “Mercedes-Benz,” with the only the drummer giving us a beat. The audience was right there with he as we sung every note.
If you get a chance, please go see this show. If you cannot, here is a link to a few “real” Janis Joplin songs. It is a tragedy she died so soon.