Wednesday, June 15, 2011

One Night With Janis Joplin: Review

Performance: "One Night With Janis Joplin"

Genre: Musical Theater

Date: June 14, 2011

Venue: Gerding Theater, Pearl District, Portland, Oregon

In 6 words or fewer: Wow! How does she do that?

Performance Review: The musical blast from a seven-piece band and “Janis” busts open the curtain for “One Night with Janis Joplin,” a bio-musical of woman whose singular voice died, we thought, in 1970. We’ve heard other actors play famous singers, but it’s one thing to knock off Johnny Cash, it’s another to strain the vocal cords and achieve the melodic screech for which Janis is remembered. Actress Cat Stephani pulled it off. Ms. Stephani also showed us the quirky-jerky mannerisms in a performance that outlined the life and influences Janis Joplin.

Before last night, about the only musical I really liked was the “Blues Brothers,” movie. “One Night with Janis Joplin” joins the list, (despite never having been a Janis fan). The music was front and center, with Janis’s oral memoirs spoken from her living room couch, it seemed. The pauses served the purpose of giving all a short break from the sometimes-overwhelming power of the music.

Just as master chefs offer salty with the sweet, “One Night With Janis” balances Janis’s voice with character of “Blues Singer,” who appears, at times, as Janis’s living memory. Sabrina Elayne Carten’s assured, soulful voice was the tasty yogurt over pepper-hot. As the Blues Singer, Ms. Carten covered Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Bessie Smith. She has a lovely voice, and she provides many true highlights of the show.

The Portland performance is the World Premier of the show, which they extended until July 3. The Estate of Janis Joplin cooperated with the producers. I suspect that this show will move on to other cities and create renewed interest in Janis, her life and her music.

P.S. Props to the other talents in the show: Singers Moriah Angeline and Marisha Wallace, and the seven members of the band.

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