There were two sides to rock star Janis Joplin, the public side, that adapted blues shouts and black soul to popular music, and the lonely private side that sought solace in drugs and away from the crowds. Both Janises are made manifest in the current musical, Love, Janis, at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center in Austin, TX. The show was suppposed to end Aug. 31 but has been extended through Oct. 31.
Two actresses portray the late singer: Andra Mitrovich, as the soulful singer; and Catherine Curtin as the private woman, who talks to us through Janis' letters. Mitrovich is well known in the region for her impersonation of Joplin (especially in Beehive), and she was chosen for the role by none other than Joplin's sister, Laura. The show is based on her memoir of the same title.
Joplin died in 1970 at age 27. Before becoming part of California's Haight-Ashbury scene, she lived in Austin and was an art student at the University of Texas. Strongly influenced by Bob Dylan at the time, Joplin then made the rounds as a folksinger in Austin coffee-houses. Her brother, Michael Joplin, told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, "Probably less than half of the stories about Janis are true. People bring what they want to any public persona, and their personal stories cloud their thinking. [However], she was pretty outrageous, so it's hard to write slanderous stuff."
Bill Johnson provides off-stage and voice-over voices. Denver Center Theatre artistic director, Randal Myler co-wrote Love, Janis and directs the ZACH production -- with an eventual eye on Broadway. Myler began the project in Denver in 1995, where Curtin was already on board. Commercial producers are again checking the show out in Austin for its New York run. (According to the American-Statesman, producers wanted to try Off-Broadway three years ago, but a collaborating producer was holding out for Broadway.)
Songs in the show include "Ball & Chain," "Summertime" and "Mercedes Benz." Sadly, the producers were denied the rights to "Piece Of My Heart." Allen Robertson serves as musical director for the show, with Michael Raiford providing scenery and costumes, Don Day lighting, and Mac McDonnell the sound design.
Myler, who saw the real Joplin perform several times, said of the show, "I really hope to keep it small and personal; you learn so much more than the bad-girl image. Janis really broke with stereotypes for female singers. And the letters to her family are just so full of fabulous insight, humor, depth, care and love."
For tickets ($21-$25) and information on Love, Janis at the Zachary Scott Theatre on Toomey Road in Austin, call (512) 476-0541.
--By David Lefkowitz