For those of us that missed the epic American singers in concert – either by not getting tickets or being born a decade or so too late – Zach Theatre is giving us a second chance with the new concert musical, "One Night With Janis Joplin," playing through Aug. 18 at Zach’s new Topfer Theatre.
Starring Kacee Clanton as the troubled rock legend, the show makes no bones about the fact that this is a concert: Cliff Simon’s set design pulls us into a psychedelic basement packed to the rafters with audio equipment. Bottles of Southern Comfort litter the stage like loaded weapons, and although we get glimpses of Joplin’s early life through narrative interjections, the performance mostly floats around on the lighter side of her career.
A Texas native, Joplin delights the audience through speeches littered with expletives and sincerity, offering anecdotes from a time when Threadgill’s was at the edge of town. These fall in between renditions of Joplin’s hits such as "Piece of My Heart," "Kozmic Blues," and "Me & Bobby McGee."
Randy Johnson’s script offers some profound philosophical observations in between songs – such as Joplin’s remark that "you can fill your whole life up with ideas and still go home lonely." And the balance between storytelling and singing keeps things moving with a nice ebb and flow, even if there isn’t much in the way of dramatic arch or investment.
Zach Theatre is proud to present the show before it debuts on Broadway this fall, though that production will feature Mary Bridget Davies in the lead role.
And although it may be called "One Night with Janis," it’s really more like one night with Janis and a panoply of great female African American blues singers, all performed with incredible versatility and grace by Tiffany Mann. Mann will undoubtedly get you feeling the spirit at the end of Act I, and her gorgeous voice earned her a mid-show standing ovation on opening night. Susan Branche Towne’s costumes for the Blues Singer are especially glamorous and flattering, making each new entrance a delight to behold. In some ways, Mann’s performance rather overshadows Clanton’s, even though the lead actress provides a powerful performance.
Running close to two and a half hours, the show is energetic, entertaining, and will have you on your feet more than once (even if the built-in encore is more than a little gimmicky).
"One Night with Janis Joplin" continues through Aug. 18. www.zachtheatre.org