Janis Joplin died in 1970 at the age of 27, but her spirit is being conjured nightly in the new production "A Night with Janis Joplin" that opened this week at the Lyceum Theatre in New York.
The musical, previously seen at the Pasadena Playhouse this year and at a handful of other venues around the country, isn't a biographical depiction so much as an extended concert in which actress Mary Bridget Davies incarnates the doomed blues diva along with an ensemble of backup singers and instrumentalists.
Joplin was found dead in her Los Angeles apartment in 1970, the victim of a drug overdose. Public interest in her brief but intense moment in the pop-culture spotlight has never diminished.
A movie biopic has been in the works for a number of years, with Amy Adams expected to take the role of the singer. Another stage production, the long-running off-Broadway musical "Love, Janis," featured Davies in one of its casts.
"A Night with Janis Joplin" is being produced on Broadway with the cooperation of the late singer's estate.
What did the New York critics think of the show?
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times wrote that Davies' "positively uncanny vocal impersonation of Joplin keeps the house rocking for much of the show’s running time." Her ability to channel the singer's style "could probably give members of the audience who saw the real woman something close to a contact high."
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney called the show "a sanitized concert tribute" that "continues the transformation of Broadway into one giant industrial Baby Boomer karaoke machine." But Davies delivers "electric renditions" of the songs that Joplin made famous.
Linda Winer of Newsday wrote that Davies "has the lungs, the notes and the screaming moan in the back of the throat to suggest the real thing." But the production's creators have "scrubbed her up and domesticated her into just another ordinary '60s chick."
Entertainment Weekly's Melissa Maerz gave the production a "C" grade, writing that the "musical doesn't give Davies much to work with other than her phenomenal voice." The show's lack of biographical context makes it seem like the actress "is fronting an amazing tribute band, not a musical."
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