By Andrew Gans
13 Dec 2013
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Mary Bridget Davies
A Night With Janis Joplin, which stars Mary Bridget Davies as the late rock singer, officially opened at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre in October, following acclaimed runs at Portland Center Stage, Cleveland Play House, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Pasadena Playhouse and Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Davies, who received unanimous praise from New York critics for her uncanny embodiment of the Queen of Rock, also earned the Best Actress Award from the Cleveland Critics Circle and a Helen Hayes Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Resident Musical during the show's out-of-town engagements. Written and directed by Randy Johnson, the new musical also focuses on Joplin's inspirations, including such iconic female singers as Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Etta James and more. A few weeks ago I had the chance to chat with Davies, who previously portrayed Joplin in the national tour of Love, Janis; the singing actress spoke about the demands and joys of playing the late singer, who exploded onto the music scene in 1967 and charted five singles as a solo artist — including "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Down on Me" — before her untimely death at the age of 27 in October 1970.
Question: Since we haven’t spoken before, let’s go back a bit. Where were you born and raised?
Mary Bridget Davies: Cleveland, Ohio.
Question: When did you start performing – what’s your earliest memory?
Mary Bridget Davies: Well, actually, on tape I was three, and it was a dance recital in the basement of our hometown City Hall. [Laughs.] It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. It started with dance, and then singing just came along naturally, with choir, growing up in high school and being in productions and going to summer stock.
Davies: I knew that when I was 11, and I did my first real singing competition. In the dance competitions there was an open vocal category... I swept the whole thing with the highest points and the “Most Entertaining” award. And, all the dance teacher moms were mad – and I remember thinking that was hilarious… And I thought, “I think I like singing." I found [the dance moms' reactions] very strange — that it could be a bad thing. And I can remember, “I think I’m onto something here!”
Question: As you were growing up, were there any actors or singers you admired or who influenced you?
Davies: I absolutely loved Stevie Wonder ever since I was a kid.… I also loved the movie “Clue,” Tim Curry and everybody in it. My best friend and I – we could recite – we knew the whole entire movie... I just loved that so much, and it was so funny because I was like, “Okay, I want to see what else these people have been in.” And my mind was just blown at how talented they were.
Question: Was Broadway your goal, or was the pop world your goal?
Davies: Broadway was my goal as a child, but I figured it’d be as a dancer. [About] singing in choir, I thought, “Oh, I’ll do that, so I can round it out, so I can be a triple threat.” I did a little dance tour right out of high school, went to college and was like, “Oh, I don’t like this at all. I want to be performing now.” I was just kind of impatient, and that’s when I had gone to the Jam and just kind of sat in and hoped something would stick, and I was hired to be in my first band that night, and singing took over. But I taught dance until I was 26. I couldn’t give it up. But then one of my shows started touring, and I couldn’t keep my [dance students]. They are all actually coming to see the show Sunday. I’m very excited. The woman that I used to teach with and the students are all coming to see us. But, no, it wasn’t to be a pop singer either. When I started singing, I just wanted to sing. I just really liked the way it felt, and I liked being in the band and entertaining people on that intimate level. Pop music is just a big anonymous blur. [I'm not interested] when you can’t see the whites of people’s eyes - have a moment with them that you guys created together.