Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
A Night with Janis Joplin is a remarkable event, a concert lasting two and half hours with a live onstage band and Janis sharing the stage with characters such as Bessie Smith (Sylvia Maccalla), The Chantels, (Sharon Catherine Brown, Ashley Tamar Davis, Tawny Dolley, Sylvia Maccalla), Nina Simone (Ashley Tamar Davis), Etta James (Tawny Dolley), Aretha Franklin (Ashley Tamar Davis), and Odetta (Sylvia MacCalla).
Janis Joplin tragically died of an overdose in 1970 when she was 27, and Clanton as the Texas-born singer tells of her life growing up and her adult life, in between singing songs with her pulsating voice. She attacks the role with a fervent self-confidence and temperament, singing songs from Joplin's Haight-Ashbury days with a patchouli-scented nostalgia. The eight-piece band led by Todd Olson includes a three-piece horn section. They rock when playing "Piece of My Heart" and Nina Simone's "Little Girl Blue."
The backup singers are fabulous and each of four women gets a moment to shine, but Sharon Catherine Brown is particularly fantastic as an unknown blues singer who knocks out a rendition of "Today I Sing the Blues." Ashley Tamar Davis sings "Summertime" with pitch perfect resonance. Tawny Dolley sings several Etta James numbers beautifully and I swear I saw the great Bessie Smith on the stage in the person of Sylvia MacCalla with a vibrant voice singing Bessie's songs.
A Night with Janis Joplin, through July 9, 2017, at the ACT Geary Theatre. 415 Geary Ave. San Francisco. Tickets: 415-749-2228 or www.act-sf.org. Starting the company's 2017-2018 season, Shakespeare's Hamlet runs September 20 through October 15.