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The ramblings and observations of a kidney transplant recipient, although not necessarily for that reason.

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Monday, November 06, 2006
Friday night I went to see the play Love, Janis at the Marine's Memorial Theater in San Francisco. Going into it I wasn't sure how this was going to go over for me. I had heard a little about it and that there was some girl in the production that sounds exactly like Janis Joplin. I thought it unlikely.

Now, I'm not the hugest of Janis Joplin fans. I know the hits. I like the hits. I respect her as an artist and singer and an icon of San Franciscan history. But she died the year I was born so it's hard for me to really know her all that well. Janis, love her or hate her (is there anyone that actually hates her), was an extremely unique singer. Raspy, soulful, loud and wild. Regardless of how I felt about her, it was going to take more than wearing feathers in your hair to make me believe you are Janis Joplin.

This turned out to be a dual function production. It was a play and a Janis Joplin concert presented together. The play part of it was a monologue by an actress playing the "inner, real-human" voice of Janis Joplin, mostly based on reading Janis's letters to her family in Texas throughout the time she lived in San Francisco and became famous. The rock concert part was a full band and Janis impersonator, Cathy Richardson....also meant to potray the "outer, performer" voice of Janis. They really need to be critiqued separately as the impact that each had on the entire production was vastly different.

The actress that played inner-Janis (Morgan Hallett) put it nicely....fucking terrible. She didn't look like Janis Joplin. Her Texan accent, while well rehearsed, would only be believable to someone that's never been in Texas. In my opinion actors are only good when you don't realize they are acting and most of the play I couldn't help but notice her acting. There were maybe one or two brief moments that felt real. Another odd thing was that I kept trying to figure out who she reminded me of. I spent most of the few hours in that seat thinking to myself....GODDAMN THIS IS BUGGING ME. WHO DOES SHE REMIND ME OF!?!

Afterwards, my friend April pointed out it was Jennifer Aniston. THAT WAS IT!!! But more specifically it was Rachel from Friends. I was watching Morgan Hallett playing Jennifer Aniston playing Rachel playing Janis Joplin. The stage designe looked like it was done by a couple 7th graders and lended the idea that you actually were in a make-believe episode of Friends, where Joey (pre-success-of-Drake-Ramore) was in an off-off-off broadway production about Janis Joplin and his leading lady backed out of the play at the last minute and instead Rachel had to take over. It would have been a very natural transition to see Joey come dancing on stage as Sigmund Freud singing "Vuht you envy's a shvang!" and proudly displaying his newly discovered "jazz hands".

On the flip side, outer-Janis sung by Cathy Richardson was unbelievable. She sang every note, every run, and had every dance move. She really made you believe she was Janis Joplin. The band was pretty good, but not good enough for the singer they were backing. Cathy went well beyond the scope most singers could go to imitate. She was able to manipulate mic positioning in relationship to her mouth to create her own effects like compression and vibrato with absolute perfection.

The thing is she knew how to be Janis better than Janis knew how to be Janis. I won't take anything away from her amazing talent, but I will say that as life long music fan it felt a little weird. I got the impression that she came into that theater night after night, delivering perfect performance after perfect performance and never missing one note, one run, one dance step and that made it a little artificial, especially given the object of her imitation. I doubt seriously that Janis Joplin...emotional, passionate, soulful, wild, vocally untamed, alcoholic, drug addict Janis Joplin...ever delivered the same performance of one song twice. Likely she couldn't and likely she wouldn't. It felt almost wrong to hear someone else do it so pefectly, knowing that if you asked them to do it again, they could.

The low part of my night was when Cathy sang "Lord Won't You Buy Me A Mercedes Benz" un-miked and asked the audience to sing along. You see...I wanted to hear HER sing it and instead I got to hear the tone-deaf-moron-who-didn't-know-the-words-but-sang-at-full-volume-guy behind me, instead.

The high part of my night was when, just after the band stopped playing and we were moving into a very emotional part of the play, April asked me if the band was any good. I replied that I thought they were just ok, but better than the original band that Janis fronted (Big Brother & the Holding Company). I then whispered "There's a reason people only know Janis Joplin and not the name of the band she sang for" loud enough for everyone immediately around me to hear. Then we giggled audibly as Janisfer Anijopliston told us how lonely but happy she was in San Francisco.
posted by othur-me @ 4:17 PM  
  • At 6:54 AM, Blogger Killer said…

    I have had similar run ins with other impersonators. In Thailand I saw a Beatles tribute band that was, in my opinion, better than the actual beatles. They were all Thai, but each lived his life to look like the corresponding Beatle. Same hair cut, outfit, etc. You could tell they had dedicated their life to knowing every single Beatle's song and playing it with perfection (albeit with a thick thai accent). I don't think the Beatles, or Janis, put this much effort into the original work.

  • At 8:40 AM, Blogger EEK said…

    I hate it when stuff like the Jennifer Anniston thing gets into my head, because I can't focus on anything else once that happens.

  • At 9:11 AM, Blogger fringes said…

    Hey, review Borat next. You're good!

  • At 7:33 PM, Blogger rawbean said…


    1) Why did you go to this?

    2) Don't you hate it when they get the audience to sing along? There is nothing worse!

    3) I agree, do Borat next.

  • At 9:38 AM, Blogger don't call me MA'AM said…

    I agree with fringes... good review. I like your justification for your comments, and it seems you were extremely open-minded going into this. :-) Most notably, FUNNY!!!

    Ack. I hate it when one bad actor screws things up. Makes you wonder how Janisfer Anijopliston got the part.

    You crack me up.

  • At 5:11 PM, Blogger Liz said…

    Insightful. Will you write my term paper?

  • At 5:46 PM, Blogger othur-me said…

    Killer - All the good brothels of the world have a Beatlemania band playing in them.

    EEK - If I were to ever see it again I would scream out in from the audience "WE WERE ON A BREAK!"

    Fringes - without even seeing it...I'm willing to go out on a limb and say it's fantastically funny.

    Rawbean - 1) I had heard about it and thought it sounded interesting, but wouldn't have actually gone unless someone else wanted to go. And that's what happened. 2) The price of theater these days is not worth hearing the audience perform. 3) See above.

    DCMM - it wouldn't be so bad if there were other actors, but she was the ONLY actress.

    Liz - only if the topic is Janis Joplin, Friends, or female impersonators.

  • At 12:27 AM, Blogger Jester said…

    Honestly, there are only a couple of Janis songs that I like. I think she was completely over-rated. If not for the fact that she kacked off young, she would have faded from the limelight and would have ended up in the same boat as other performers from the era with no careers now... Grace Slick comes to mind.

    And unless the chick performing her songs is high on smack and jack daniels during the show, she can't possible truly capture Janis live. An actor taking on a role like that has to bring something to it that makes it better than an imitation... I'm thinking of Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line. He got the essence, and brought something new... enough to make you forget that it wasn't Johnny Cash in the movie.

  • At 4:10 PM, Blogger othur-me said…

    Jester - as someone who has a good voice and can actually sing, you really shouldn't care that much for Janis. But there was something amazing about her as performer that went beyond vocal ability. I'm not sure she would have faded away as easily as Grace Slick. The record companies loved Janis, knew she would be famous beyond Big Brother & The Holding Co, and got in bidding wars over her. Grace never got that kind of attention.

    I'm convinced she would have been a super star, I'm just saying if she managed to clean up the drugs she would have been much more respected today than Grace, and at least as famous as she is in death.

  • At 7:50 PM, Anonymous handlethescandal said…

    that woman who played Janis talking SUCKED, I agree, I was cringing.

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