KPBS AIRDATE: July 19, 2002
The jury is still out on whether or not Janis Joplin will become a bona fide American classic. Young kids don’t seem to know the hard-driving, hard-rockin’ blues mama at all… Or they think of her as some crazy, wild ’60s singer who overdosed and died young. And yet, more than 30 years after her death at age 27, her ‘Greatest Hits’ album still tops the Billboard charts. MTV recently named her one of the top three Women in Rock ‘n’ Roll for the Millennium (she placed just after Aretha and Tina, both still very much alive). And in more dramatic terms, the show about her music and life, which first appeared here last summer, was the highest-grossing, most successful musical in the 27-year history of the San Diego Repertory Theatre, extended twice and playing to standing ovations every night. So all that has to count for something. Only time will tell the whole story. But in the meanwhile, you might want to check out the reprise production of “Love, Janis.”
It’s based on the book by the same name, written by Janis’ younger sister Laura. Creator/director Randal Myler has taken out all of Laura’s commentary and personal memories, retaining only excerpts from Janis’ interviews and letters home, interspersed with 19 of her best and most memorable songs. This is a familiar format for Myler, who also created “Lost Highway: The Music and Legend of Hank Williams” and the Tony-nominated “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues.” The Rep has previously presented the slightly more plot-driven “Always, Patsy Cline” and “The Buddy Holly Story.” Each is more concert than theater, and more satisfying musically than dramatically.
The conceit here is that there’s a talking Janis and a singing Janis, though Andra Mitrovich, who’s from the same Texas locale as the rock icon, could easily do both, if she’d just slow down her sassy, twangy talk. Because the role is so vocally demanding, there are two singing Janises, alternating nights. So it takes three people to make one Janis — and that says it all. But Mitrovich, who’s played the role for 5 years, including Off Broadway, sounds great, and very authentic. I heard the other Janis, Kacee Clanton-Iniguez, in rehearsal, and she’s darn good, too, with less down-home wailin’ blues, more thumpin’ bumpin’ rock. Neither is imitating Janis, and that’s as it should be. Neither looks like her, and that’s sometimes distracting. The backup band is terrific, directed by Sam Andrew, a founding and current member of Janis’ original band, Big Brother. Though the ache in the songs can still break your heart, the show doesn’t. But audiences of all ages seem to love it… maybe you will, too.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.