“A Night with Janis Joplin” currently at McCarter’s Matthews Theatre is a good time tour through the music of an icon that typifies her era so well that she’s top of mind when it comes to the sound of the ’60s. It’s so vocally demanding that two headliners are required, Kacee Clanton and Kelly McIntyre—the performance I enjoyed featured Kelly. The Joplinaires are Sharon Catherine Brown, Tawny Dolley, Sylvia MacCalla, and Amma Osei, singing and playing a variety of styles and roles.
Kelly McIntyre embodies Janis and inhabits her psyche in very corporeal ways. As she swigs from a bottle of brown liquor, during the first and second acts, we understand that Blues are pain and sometimes the pain is made even sweeter with a bit of intoxication. Equally intoxicating are the woven vignettes of Janis’ s’heroes in song, and as we sample Etta James (Tawny Dolley), a Blues Singer (Sharon Catherine Brown), Bessie Smith, and Odetta (Sylvia MacCalla), along with Aretha and Nina Simone (Amma Osei), we begin to understand how Janis’ own style was born.
Randy Johnson has created, written and directed this show that is a musical tour with lightly autobiographical detail. That said, I found myself hungry, among these life-affirming powerful performances, to learn what brought Janis to such despair. This is a bit too much on the light side for the varied and beautiful character, who has become such an icon for all of us.
Despite the deeply felt performances, despite the quality of the house band who ranged from Southern Rock through Folk and Funk and a host of texture in between, there are audience participation parts, and the energetic and talented cast had trouble motivating the Princeton audience to clap, much less stand. There were times when people spontaneously stood and danced and clapped. When you go, wear your dancing shoes and prepare to let it all hang out–it is part of a memorable experience that will have you dusting off your vinyl, or downloading remastered tracks, the moment you leave the theatre.
“A Night with Janis Joplin” runs only through October 29, so reserve NOW while there are still good seats left. Contact the box office at www.McCarter.org
or via telephone at 609/258.ARTS (2787).