Love, Janis: the Songs, The Soul of Janis Joplin — the new musical conceived, adapted and directed by Randal Myler, which has been playing to audiences at Off-Broadway's Village Theater since April 10 — will have its west coast premiere at San Diego Repertory Theatre. Previews will begin Sept. 21 for an opening Sept. 28. It will run through Nov. 4
As in New York, and at Long Island's Bay Street Theatre before that, the San Diego cast will feature three Joplins. Beth Hart will play the "singing/public" Janis, belting out the artist's many classic tunes. Alternating with Hart will be Kacee Clanton-Iniguez (two actresses are needed to meet the challenge of Joplin's notoriously larynx-wrenching singing style). Both Hart and Clanton-Iniguez are recording artists.
Playing the "private Janis," meanwhile, will be Amelia Campbell, the best known performer to yet be featured in the Myler show. Campbell was nominated for a Tony Award a decade ago, for her performance in the play Our Country's Good. More recently, she has appeared on Broadway in The Herbal Bed and Waiting in the Wings. Other credits include A Small Family Business and Translations.
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 in July 2000 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