The reviews are in for the latest Jukebox musical to hit the Great White Way – A Night With Janis Joplin – and once again the critics are split. Those who loved the show found Mary Bridget Davies’ vocals and energetic performance spot-on and intoxicating, while others were left loving the singing, but wondering how the life of such an extreme personality could be told in such a sentimental, vanilla way. They all agree the show was supported by a fantastic cast, costumes, sound, lighting, choreography, projections and effects – elements that try to raise this show above it’s mediocre book – and that in the end, despite the truth about its subject, it’s a fabulous concert about a woman who just loves and wants to sing the blues.
NEW YORK TIMES
“Mary Bridget Davies['] uncanny vocal impersonation of Joplin keeps the house rocking for much of the show’s running time…[but] if the real Joplin had the kind of sensible perspective on her life and career that she exhibits in this show — happily reminiscing about her youthful love of painting, or giving a learned docent tour of blues history — she would probably not have died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol at 27….Still, if the Janis who waxes nostalgic while partaking sparingly of the bottle does not quite match our image of the fiercely needy, heedless young woman who sang and partied with reckless abandon, frankly, it’s a bit of a relief. The default setting of biographical shows about performers who lived loose and imploded early often borders on the ghoulish…Her ability to match Joplin’s highly emotive style could probably give members of the audience who saw the real woman something close to a contact high — or maybe a nostalgia high is the better term.”
“I doubt if the walls of the classic Beaux-Arts showplace have ever felt any vibrations like the powerful full-throated wails of soulful orgasmic psychodelia emoted from Mary Bridget Davies in the title role of A Night With Janis Joplin…Writer/director Randy Johnson’s concert-style musical is not to be lumped in the same category with that trio of Beatles imitation concerts that have played Times Square or other such shows that rely solely on mimicry. The ambition is a little higher here, and while A Night With Janis Joplinhas its flaws as drama, as a raucous, hyper-energized tribute to one of American music’s great icons, it’s a joyful explosion…[Davies'] emotional commitment to the material is so forceful and sincere that by the first act curtain you may find yourself less concerned with Janis Joplin and anxious to see more of A Night With Mary Bridget Davies…Between songs Davies’ Joplin is an adorable, cherubic-faced gal sharing with the audience her preference for dive bars and gritty blues and bits of her life story through amusing patter…But A Night With Janis Joplin is about the good times, and there are plenty of them to be enjoyed in this rowdy and heartfelt celebration.”
“Legendary blues and soul singer Janis Joplin was an astounding force of nature onstage and off. A new concert musical on Broadway provides a rockin’ good time while imaginatively evoking her impassioned, thrilling talent…Soulful and genuine, Davies gives a lively, energetic performance. She captures much of the exuberance and uniquely raspy wailing that made Joplin a musical legend, though she lacks Joplin’s raw onstage sexuality and brash, raunchy persona…Johnson’s book sentimentalizes Joplin, whitewashing her hard-drinking, drug-fueled lifestyle and focusing instead on her enthusiasm and passion for her music…With dynamic use of lighting, projections, sound design and the choreography of Patricia Wilcox, Johnson creates a high-caliber spectacle around the compelling story of a uniquely talented singer-songwriter who embodied her generation’s passionate attitudes.”
“Mary Bridget Davies will take longtime Joplin fans on a trip, but she deserves a sturdier showcase than this discursive salute to the artist and her influences…if you’re after a contextualized bio-musical to provide insight into rock’s first undisputed queen, writer-director Randy Johnson’s sanitized concert tribute, A Night With Janis Joplin, is not the place to look…In terms of the physical production, the show has a time-capsule authenticity. What feels more artificial is the tidily retrospective mood of the protagonist…In the overwritten patter for Joplin that links the songs, Johnson appears to be aiming to tap the collective spirit of oppressed womanhood thirsting for liberation across the decades. But that theme is expressed too mechanically to resonate, and great as she is on the vocals, Davies is not a good enough actor to smooth out the script’s many clunky transitions…Whatever this tame tribute lacks in scope, it has a considerable saving grace in Davies’ electric renditions of the songs – wild and joyously raucous one minute and ragged with sorrow the next.”
“As a musical biography, “A Night With Janis Joplin” is pretty much a bust. The book by Randy Johnson, who also helmed, skims lightly over the singer’s Texas childhood and her tenure with Big Brother and the Holding Company, with nary a word about her personal life or the booze and drugs that cut it short…there’s not a hint of personal data in the show’s book…Davies, who looks like Joplin, sings like Joplin, howls like Joplin and has been touring the country in a show and a role-of-a-lifetime that she owns…As a concert, the well-wrought production should satisfy any rabid fan of Joplin’s musical brand of the blues. But for anyone expecting an honest portrait of Janis — or of the hedonistic Sixties era she personified — you can just cry, cry baby.”