WMHT recently showed an absorbing documentary about Janis Joplin.
And now you can see Janis in the thrilling performance of Kelly McIntyre, whose voice, gestures, tone, and even look-in-her-eye summon up the life (and ghost) of this rock icon, whose star blazed briefly over the teen and young adult years of many in Tuesday night’s audience.
Written and directed by Randy Johnson, this two-hour romp through a night onstage with Janis mercifully avoids the approach that many bio shows take: chronological, with an awkward mix of telling and showing (this is the undoing of, say, the otherwise wonderful “Fiorello!” now at the Berkshire Playhouse).
‘A Night with Janis Joplin’
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 11 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Through Aug. 7
HOW MUCH: $55-$25
MORE INFO: 445.7469 or capitalrep.org
Instead, Johnson’s angle is to explore the musical influences on Joplin, chiefly black female singers.
Thus, the evening is a movingly structured homage to a whole history of 20th century popular sound, with Joplin in the forefront, but with other great singers, in a dreamlike fashion, entering the scene.
Cap Rep’s tech crew goes all out to make the evening pop. The music is loud (but you can take it!); the multilevel set allows for some strategic coming and going of the various performers; the rear-wall projections subtly elaborate what’s happening on stage; and the lighting effects are stunning (on “Ball and Chain,” for example, they flash on and off in time with the music.)
There is no fourth wall. Joplin talks to us, offering satisfying tidbits of autobiography and philosophy (“No man has ever made me feel better than an audience” and “The blues are based on the have-nots,”), and everyone refers to Albany and gets us clapping, standing and singing. Surround sound, indeed!
From the keyboard, music director Todd Olson leads a seven-member high-octane band (though, typically, Joplin frequently gives the cut-offs, hanging that last note out to dry till it has left her body), guys who know soul, blues, and rock ’n’ roll.
And those performers. Danyel Fulton (Blues Singer), Jannie Jones (Chantel, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone), Nikita Jones (Chantel, Bessie Smith, Odetta), and Kimberly Ann Steele (Chantel, Etta James) can do back-up and take the spotlight. So individual is the style of each of the famous entertainers they portray that you know instantly how spot-on these re-creations are.
But there’s no irony in the performances, only tribute: artists stand on the shoulders of their predecessors.
I kept putting asterisks next to favorite numbers as the evening went on. Then two asterisks. You get the idea. “Cry Baby” had the most, but “Piece of My Heart,” “Try,” “Spirit in the Dark,” and the complementary treatments of “Summertime” and “Down on Me” were not far behind.
McIntyre? No explaining her, really. BFA from The Hartt School of Music in Hartford. Lots of performing gigs. She’s a composer. But there was no explaining Joplin, either. Let’s just say that, McIntyre’s day jobs aside, Cap Rep is where she belongs at night. Go see her.