The Washington Post

“One Night with Janis Joplin” — a lesson in channeling dead pop stars

Mary Bridget Davies, plays Janis Joplin in "One Night With Janis Joplin" at Arena Stage. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

It was icky proof that we have a very hard time letting go of our dead pop stars. In Coachella’s wake, rumors of Freddie Mercury and Ronald Reagan holograms came flying. But we have other options, people.

Take “One Night with Janis Joplin,” a production that’s been blurring the line between tribute concert and theater this month at Washington’s Arena Stage. Post theater critic Peter Marks aptly praised the production’s lead Mary Bridget Davies for “producing a version of the Joplin screech that starts somewhere around the singer’s ankles, wends its way up into the back of her throat and shoots off into the farthest reaches of Arena’s Kreeger Theater.” First, I itched with jealousy for not being able to write a line that great. Then, I tried to score tickets.

Davies is no hologram. On stage Friday night, she summoned Joplin’s indelible howl, her stomping stage presence, her raspy speaking voice, her conversational tics, man. Davies’ performance was fluid, fiery, studied and sturdy in a way that, obviously, computer generated animation is not.

Someday, our technology might be advanced enough to raise the ghost of Jimi Hendrix in convincing ones and zeroes. But until then, the theater feels like the healthiest space for pop star reanimation. More than mere boomer field trip down memory lane, “One Night with Janis Joplin” makes that case.

“One Night with Janis Joplin” closes on Sunday. Tickets for Wednesday and Sunday performances are still available.

Chris Richards is The Washington Post's pop music critic. He has recently written about Adele's sadness, Kendrick Lamar's fury, Young Thug's genius and T-Pain's vulnerability.


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