Love, Janis: the Songs, The Soul of Janis Joplin, a new musical conceived, adapted and directed by Randal Myler, opens April 22 at the Village Theatre, a venue owned by Eric Nederlander. Previews began April 10. The show played the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, Long Island, last summer and had been eyeing a New York run ever since.
The cast features three Joplins, as it did in Sag Harbor. Catherine Curtin will be the "private Janis," while Cathy Richardson and Andra Mitrovich will alternate performances as the "public/performing Janis." The double casting was presumably due to the rigors of Joplin's searing vocal style. All three performers are repeating the roles they created at Bay Street.
Labor differences between the producers and the Musicians Union (Local 802) that resulted in informational picket lines, heated rhetoric and the appearance of the union's famous, giant, outdoor inflatable rat during previews have been "amicably settled," according to spokesperson Gary Springer. "The union is satisfied, the musicians are satisfied, the producers are satisfied, the audience is satisfied. Everybody wins," Springer wrote in a statement two days before the Janis' opening date.
Joplin rose to prominence in 1967 as the gritty, bluesy vocalist of the band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, wailing the lyrics of the hit "Piece of My Heart." She went on to solo success and scored a number one single with "Me and Bobby McGee" — although the song didn't hit until after Joplin had succumbed to a heroin overdose in 1970. Myler told Playbill On-Line last July that the idea to do the show did not originate with him. Some years ago, Laura Joplin, Janis' sister, saw a show of Myler's about Hank Williams, Sr. Joplin approached him afterwards and asked whether he'd consider creating a show about Janis. "I said that I needed more of a hook than simply liking the artist," said Myler. "Then she said, `Well, before you say no, we have this batch of letters.'" Laura Joplin then gave Myler a series of correspondences written by Janis from 1967 to 1970. "The letters were deep and intelligent and funny and sad," said Myler, who had only known the singer's hard-living public persona, having seen her perform several times when he was a teenager in San Francisco.
Myler decided to build the show around the letters. The missives start at the very beginning of Joplin's career. The first one, said Myler, reads "Dear Mom, I've hitchhiked to San Francisco. Don't be mad." Joplin had traveled to Bay area to audition for a band called Big Brother and the Holding Company. She got the job.
A figure from Joplin history was on hand at Bay Street to make certain the singer's material is justly represented: Sam Andrew, the lead guitarist and founder of Big Brother. Myler met Andrew when Love, Janis was presented in Austin, TX; the company had invited several of Joplin's friends to see the production. Andrew so enjoyed the show, he offered his services and Myler appointed him music director.
Love, Janis was previously seen at the Cleveland Playhouse, Denver Center Theatre Company and Chicago's Royal George Theatre.
Myler directed and co-authored Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, which won Tony nominations for best musical and best book a couple seasons back.
—By Robert Simonson