Janis Joplin; All Women “Julius Caesar’; Yanks: Theater
A G-rated version of blues singer Janis Joplin isn’t exactly the tribute anyone might have expected for the star who died at 27 of a heroin overdose in 1970.
Notwithstanding its rose-colored granny glasses, however, you shouldn’t miss “A Night With Janis Joplin” on Broadway at the Lyceum.
This exuberant, phenomenally well-executed “concert” avoids the lurid vortex-of-darkness that similar biographical shows (most recently, “Lady Day”) revel in. The heroin-addicted, Southern Comfort-swilling, sexually ambiguous Joplin arrives on Broadway essentially stripped of her rough edges.
Yet you’ll hear impeccable covers of “Summertime,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Cry Baby” and “Me and Bobby McGee,” backed by one of the best rock bands ever heard in these precincts, replicating the sound of Joplin’s bands -- particularly Big Brother and the Holding Company -- if not the significance of their collaboration with the singer.
Here is a congenial Joplin, talking about, and introducing us to her musical influences: Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Odetta and Aretha Franklin.
There’s no mention of the self-loathing and insecurity that made Joplin the blistering performer she was. But I did appreciate hearing the connections she made and internalized to develop into the singer she became.
And then there’s the amazement that is Mary Bridget Davies’s performance in the title role. She looks nothing like Joplin yet the gravel voice, jerky/fluttery mannerisms and, most importantly, the soul, all are scorchingly present. I’ve no idea how she does this night after night. (Gerard)
At the Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: ***1/2
Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female production of “Julius Caesar” is set in a prison and requires the audience to enter through a holding pen, with stern looking guards and posters threatening arrest for certain offences.
This import from London’s Donmar Warehouse also asks us to sit for over two uninterrupted hours in uncomfortable seats at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.
The reward for such silliness is one of the most ferocious, immediate performances of the play I’ve ever seen. It’s led by Harriet Walter’s Brutus, a Shakespeare paradigm of conflicted heroism torn between love and hate for Caesar (Frances Barber, in an eerie portrayal that’s part spectral, part gangster). Walter’s embodiment of Brutus’s masculine and feminine sides is thoroughly compelling. (Gerard)
Through Nov. 3 at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 29 Jay St., Brooklyn. Information: +1-718-254-8779; http://www.stannswarehouse.org. Rating: *****
Imagine a Twilight Zone-like dinner attended by legends of all eras who played for the New York Yankees, the most successful franchise in baseball.
Yogi Berra (Richard Topol) dispenses Yogi-isms about his New Jersey home (“It’s a big house, but all it’s got in it is rooms”). Mickey Mantle (Bill Dawes) argues with Joe DiMaggio (Chris Henry Coffey). Babe Ruth (C.J.Wilson) thinks Derek Jeter (Christopher Jackson) is in the Negro leagues.
For fans, the surreal dream scene and the rest of Eric Simonson’s “Bronx Bombers” seem like a reunion of old friends.
Most of the first act is set in a Boston hotel room in 1977, as Berra tries to make peace between Manager Billy Martin (Keith Nobbs) and his argumentative star right fielder, Reggie Jackson (Francois Battiste). Act II features the Berra dinner revealing that turmoil and triumph co-existed in every era.
Non-fans will struggle to keep the 13 characters straight. “Bombers” is the least accessible of Simonson’s three sports plays presented in New York. This one he also directed, ably. More sentimental journey than serious drama, the show lets pinstripe diehards get their fix without leaving Manhattan. (Boroff)
At 229 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-646-223-3010; http://www.primarystages.org/bronxbombers/. Rating: **1/2
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic and Philip Boroff is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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