A Bold Soul Sister: Piece of My Heart Star de'Adre Aziza Comes Full Circle with "Special" Janis Joplin Connection
By Karu F. Daniels
01 Aug 2014
de'Adre Aziza in Piece of My Heart
Photo by Jenny Anderson/O & M
Earlier this year, de'Adre Aziza caused social media shock waves after lambasting A Night With Janis Joplin producers for their botched attempt to revive the show Off-Broadway. In an ironic twist, she's currently starring in a show centering on the music that made Joplin a rock music legend. Playbill.com chats with Tony Award-nominated Passing Strange alum.
"I went from giving a piece of my mind to giving a piece of my heart," chuckled de'Adre Aziza during a quick break from the new musical Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, which opened July 21 at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center.
In the Denis Jones-helmed show, the life and songs of legendary songwriter Bert Berns is explored in a book crafted by Daniel Goldfarb. Aziza, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her 2008 Broadway debut in Passing Strange, portrays Berns' first love Candace Carmichael — an older, wiser and more sophisticated seductress who sweeps him off of his feet. The couple's racial differences are what initially bring them together but also ultimately tear them apart.
True oldies-but-goodies music buffs know of Berns' masterful contributions to rock and roll's canon of hits during the 1960s. The New York City native, who died at the age of 38, created a seemingly endless parade of hit songs including "Twist and Shout," "Tell Him," "I Want Candy," "Hang on Sloopy," "Cry Baby" and "Piece of My Heart" — which became a signature song of Joplin's.
The multifaceted theatre where Piece of My Heart is playing through August is only a few blocks west of Broadway's Lyceum Theatre, where Aziza was last seen starring in the critically acclaimed but ill-fated musical A Night With Janis Joplin. The Randy Johnson-directed bio-musical loosely followed the career trajectory of Joplin while also showcasing the singers who greatly influenced her including Aretha Franklin, Bessie Smith, Etta James, Odetta and Nina Simone. Aziza, NaTasha Yvette Williams (Porgy and Bess), Taprena Michele Augustine (The Book of Mormon), Allison Blackwell (Porgy And Bess) and Broadway newcomer Nikki Kimbrough portrayed those great legends of jazz, blues and soul. After the Broadway show shuttered Feb. 9, it was later announced to continue Off-Broadway at New York City's Gramercy Theater. And then just two days before the revival was to start performances, the production was scrapped.
"I know a stankin' rotten fish when I taste one, I don't care how much you bathe it in OldBay," Aziza mused on Facebook while blasting the show's producers for leading the cast and creative team of the show to despair.
"In whose accounting meeting was it decided that a show that lost so much money on Broadway would be just fine off-OFF-east-off Broadway in a day and age where Broadway shows that pull in $800,000 a week or less are sometimes seen as failures? Please explain," the Teaneck, N.J.-reared firebrand continued in an open letter chastising the show's decision makers.
Holed up in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, two former lovers unpack the deep secrets and dark desires of their tangled relationship, passionately tearing each other apart. Led by director Daniel Aukin (Back Back Back at MTC, 4,000 Miles), Tony winner Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur at MTC, Born Yesterday) and Sam Rockwell (A Behanding in Spokane, The Way Way Back) bring an explosive intensity to Sam Shepard’s (Buried Child, True West) landmark myth of the new Wild West.