Michael Joplin: One Night with Janis

By Jeb Wright

When One Night with Janis Joplin premiered at The Pasadena Playhouse, critics raved so much the musical was held over by popular demand.

What makes One Night with Janis Joplin so special is that the musical celebrates the musical legacy of Janis, not just her legendary wild persona.  “We all know Janis slept around, cussed a lot, drank and did lots of drugs,” says her younger brother, Michael Joplin, who is involved in the production. “We want to celebrate Janis through what she loved; her music. And I think One Night with Janis Joplin does that.”   

The musical was created, written and directed by Randy Johnson. His goal was to show the musical genius that was Janis Joplin.  Part of the way he set out to accomplish his goal was to educate audiences about the singers that inspired Joplin.  The show pays homage to many of Janis’ heroes, including Bessie Smith, Etta James and Aretha Franklin. 

Both Michael and Randy knew a special lady was needed to portray Janis in the musical.  She had to be real, believable and, most of all had to be able to belt a tune.  Enter Mary Bridget Davies. “Mary sings honestly and full bore. She is sincere and real and I love her,” gushes Joplin. “When I leave the show I feel good. We want people to leave excited and upbeat.  

“People have many ideas about my sister,” continues Michael. “I just want people to remember her the way I remember her: fun, laughing, honest, true, and extremely talented. Both Randy Johnson and Mary Bridget Davies bring all those things to the stage.”    

When Michael watches One Night with Janis Joplin it takes him back to a time when his older sister was first becoming famous.  “It was awesome, as a high schooler, to have my older sister on the radio,” admits Michael. “I was proud beyond belief. My parents and sister were equally proud. The peak was The Ed Sullivan Show. The whole neighborhood came over and watched it on our TV set and all of us cheered. It was a wonderful night.”

Now, over four decades later, Michael is still proud, yet he is still looking out for his sister, “I want to protect her. I don't need to make stuff up or hide her, just keep her and her image true to itself.”  The image of which he speaks is one that has evoked many emotions over the ages.  Fans of Janis Joplin don’t just listen to her music, they feel it.   This rare mixture of respect, adulation and love comes from the fact that Janis was true to her musical vision and was open and honest with those closest to her, as well as with the media, who often were less than understanding. “She represents an inner honesty that people want,” explains her brother.  “Sometimes it's painful and sometimes it is wonderful. Janis kind of wore that on her sleeve and people identify with it. Music, like all art, was/is a way to express yourself, to share yourself and to see how others view the world. Whether they are seeking it or not, they identify. And of course, Janis could sing the hell out of a song.”

One Night with Janis Joplin features live performances of many of her classic songs including “Piece of My Heart,” “Mercedes Benz,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Ball and Chain” and “Summertime.” The music truly does the talking, and even though it is not actually Janis singing, Michael admits it sounds amazing, “Janis liked people who sang true. Mary Bridget Davies and Sabrina Elayne Carten both sing very true. I don't know what Janis would think, but I enjoy it, so I guess Janis would, too.”

Inevitably, even forty-plus years down the line, Janis Joplin’s little brother seems to run into his sister’s legacy in the strangest places.  Whether a trip to the mall, a family dinner or cruising around in his car, when a Janis Joplin song comes on, he smiles.  When asked if it is still special, to hear his sister sing, after all these years, he simply states, “Very much so. I usually just smile and say, ‘Hi.’”

When the final curtain falls on April 21st in Pasadena, One Night with Janis Joplin will hit the road, stopping first in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and then Washington D.C.  For all dates visit http://www.onenightwithjanisjoplin.com.