Watching a singer conjure up the spirit of a woman who lived too hard and died too soon might not be what you have in mind for entertainment on a Saturday night. But when the singer is Sophie B. Hawkins and the spirit is that of Janis Joplin, well… it just might be worth the price of admission.
Room 105: The Highs & Lows of Janis Joplin is pretty much a one woman show in which Ms. Hawkins to the best of her ability, becomes Janis Joplin. To a certain degree, it works. The setting is the hotel room where Janis overdosed and died. The backing band is onstage, but hardly visible behind the scenery. Overhead, a video screen shows pictures from Janis’ life relevant to the story. The show begins with the band playing “The Star Spangled Banner” ala Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, while the screen flashes through historic images of the time.
Sophie B. Hawkins is now Janis Joplin.
“The summer of love” Janis says as she enters and almost immediately rips into “Piece of My Heart.” While it was great to hear that old chestnut belted out live, the vocal made you wonder how strong Hawkins would be throughout the show. In the end, the opening number could be deemed as the weakest of the night.
Sophie B. Hawkins’ doing Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”
We now have Janis – or her spirit at least – in the present day, and the rest of the show becomes a reflection on the memories and experiences which were both painful and overwhelming for the gifted girl from Port Arthur, Texas. While it is no secret that Janis never did fit in within the close-minded town in which she was born & raised, the show did offer more insight into just how troubled her personal life was, from high school until the night she died when she entered “Club 27,” so named for the incidence of so many rock stars dying at that age.
Productions such as this, where the main character also acts as a narrator telling you the story instead of acting it out, tend to feel a bit forced and this show at times had this problem. All the auxiliary characters needed to be introduced as to their names and connection with Janis, making it a little fuzzy and drawn out.
Musically, Hawkins grew stronger and more Janis’esque as the night went on. “Cry Baby”, the second of the nine songs found her vocals a little more raw rather than refined, and therefore closer to Joplin’s unique sound. One thing which was missing was the laugh. Janis had a distinct laugh, if you listen to “Mercedes Benz,” you can hear it at the end. As much as she was known for the floppy hats and boas she wore onstage, she was known for her laugh. Physically Hawkins is much more graceful than Janis, and while her voice does a good job in the interpretations, she lacks the raw, tear out your guts vocal that was Joplin.
Aside from Hawkins there are several actors who bounce in and out of the timeline. Lovers, male and female, friends, her mother, are all portrayed as to how they hurt or disappointed Janis. The final scene where she is alone in the hotel room as her female lover is with another woman and her male fiance is cheating on her with some other woman, is wonderfully choreographed. Joplin is shown in desperation, as the two other couples are making passionate love, providing a perfect juxtaposition.
As someone who lived through the life and times of Janis Joplin, a lot of the dialogue rings true, while some of it – not so much. The audience was mainly baby boomers, as one might expect. It might be a hard sell in trying to attract a younger audience, as the 60’s dialogue might be too dated for kids who didn’t grow up with it. Too much of the story seemed to be cause and effect. While many things influence your path, usually you aren’t able to pinpoint just how one event led to another in such black and white tones. There were some technical issues with the sound at a few points and one has to give credit to Hawkins for working through them and not missing a beat as a technician was fiddling with her blouse, trying to fix the problem. As much as this is basically a monologue where Janis talks to the audience, there are times when the audience talks back. Hawkins was very good at reacting to the lines thrown at her and shooting back an ad lib, still in perfect character.
When seeing a play/show about a legendary singer you hope the music stands up; and it did. It’s not Janis singing, but Hawkins is still damn good. It’s her show to run with and there is no doubt she is up to the task. Hearing songs like “Try,” “Ball and Chain,” “Get It While You Can,” and of course “Me and Bobby McGee” done live and done well, is nothing less than a rock music lovers dream. The band: Josh Sklair, Daniel Pearson, Corey Coverstone and Ed Roth, were first-rate. Written and directed by Gigi Gaston, there are scenes which work well, and a few which seem to slow the show down.
As far as to its rating… recommended with a caveat. While the music part of the show is really worthwhile, the story tries to in fit too much. The end result is it lacks depth in certain areas and the supporting characters have little definition. For a Joplin fan or for a fan of this seminal musical time period, it’s a must-see. For everyone else though, probably not.
Written by Kath Galasso
OurVinyl | Contributor
Below is a promotional video made for the show. We have it here just to give you a taste of what it’s like.