THEATER REVIEW: “A Night With Janis Joplin” @ theREP

Jannie Jones and Kelly McIntyre
Jannie Jones and Kelly McIntyre

Review by Greg Haymes

“It’s the want of something that gives you the blues,” explains Kelly McIntyre in her tour de force performance as Janis Joplin at Albany’s theREP. “The blues are based on the have-nots.”

It’s a simple definition, but it rings true, as does the entire production of “A Night With Janis Joplin,” which runs at theREP through Sunday, August 7.

On its face the two-hour show is a recreation of a Joplin concert, and you can view the whole show as something of a Janis Joplin tribute band and thoroughly enjoy it on that level.

Under the direction of keyboardist Todd Olson, the eight-piece onstage band is rock solid, powered by drummer Joe Barna and featuring dueling guitarists Michael Karcher and Nick Novelli, both of whom contribute some mighty scorching solos throughout the night. They cover Joplin’s brief four-year spin in the white-hot glare of rock stardom’s spotlight from Big Brother & the Holding Company to the Kozmic Blues Band to the Full Tilt Boogie Band, and they do it with authority.

But the script, by Randy Johnson who also directs, finds Joplin slipping into her memory banks between songs, reminiscing mostly about her childhood in Texas and the blues singers who were the primary influences on her soul-baring vocal style. As her mind drifts back, the singers step forward to grab the microphone and take over the spotlight – Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone (both portrayed by Jannie Jones), Bessie Smith and Odetta (Nikita R. Jones) and Etta James (Kimberly Ann Steele).

But it’s Danyel Fulton (seen earlier this year at theREP in “The Trip to Bountiful”) who all but steals the show as the unnamed “Blues Singer” with a torrential rendition of “Today I Sing the Blues.”

But, of course, ultimately the success of “A Night With Janis Joplin” depends solely (and soully) on the performance of whoever is bold enough to take on the daunting task of the title role. McIntyre was superb, embracing both Joplin’s brash and bawdy side, as well as her vulnerability. She nailed Joplin’s cadence in speech and song with deadly accuracy. And she literally threw herself into the songs, especially during the Act Two highlights, “Cry Baby” and “Ball and Chain.”

While Johnson’s script doesn’t offer much in the way of plot or character development, McIntyre’s star turn is certainly worth the price of admission (and a couple of hours of your time). Even Michael Lang – one of the promoters of the ’69 Woodstock festival which featured Joplin – seemed to be enjoying himself on opening night.

Yeah, McIntyre is that good…

WHAT: “A Night with Janis Joplin”
WHERE: theREP, Albany
WHEN: Through Sunday, August 7
HOW MUCH: $25-$60

Sarah Weaver’s review at NY Theatre Guide
Excerpt from Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union: “But what really matters is the music. If Joplin and her influences are in your playlist, literal or mental, the show is a must-see. McIntyre and the others aren’t trying for note-perfect mimicry of the artists they’re playing, though each, in her own way, is strongly suggestive of the original. When the band is cranked up, McIntyre is at her full, leather-lunged howl and the backup singers are laying on their thickly upholstered harmonies, there’s almost no place I’d rather be.”
Excerpt from Paul Lamar’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Long live Kelly McIntyre/hairbottlethroateyes/laugh-frown-grin-fire/Janis is not dead!”

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