A powerful young singer gave tribute to the vulnerable creativity of one of the most moving icons of the late sixties. The stage was filled with 21st century lighting and effects, even a bit of reverb, because no one has that gravelly rough and beautifully pain-filled voice that Janis had.
The young actress strutted and sang and sat and talked. She brought me to tears more than once and she was only for the briefest second not actually her version of Janis. Yet despite the actresses’ heart, and devotion to her subject, the experience didn’t quite ring true. The stories were less spectacular than you would imagine from Janis, but then they were imagined by someone other than Janis, perhaps a family desperate to protect in death what they could not protect in life.
The stage was an interesting confusion of places and times with a collection of old table lamps littered around a small Buddha-like statue at the edge of the stage, and a large video wall up-stage looking like a factory window with many panes of glass. Truss arches created a proscenium within a proscenium and supported a inordinate number of moving lights and blinders, which moved and blinded almost to excess. Janis sat occasionally, but only in Act I, in a chair to the side and told her stories. The chair was not there in Act II.
Janis’ influences sang. they were strong, black women with presence and voice. They were Aretha and Etta, and all the others that came before them and sang their pain away in the most pleasant keening imaginable.
The lights were there all the time flashing and moving and occasionally creating beautiful visual snapshots, always being 21st century concert lighting, and sometimes reminiscent of musical theatre. The lights were beautiful and quiet for Me and Bobby Mcgee, which was good.
It should have been the end when the powerful young singer’s Janis declared that she would go on forever and walked off stage. It really should have been the end of the show. The last words we heard should have been the beautiful pain of a brilliant talent that could not get enough. The last sight we saw should have been the powerful body walking deliberately away, away from us, and away from her pain.
But for some reason it was not the end, and that was the saddest part of all.