'Love, Janis' rocks the Gallo Center
By LISA MILLEGAN
June 21, 2008
It isn't often that you see people pumping their fists in the air,
dancing and generally rocking out at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
But that's what happens at "Love, Janis," a high energy touring show
about 1960s rocker Janis Joplin that wraps up the center's inaugural season.
Featuring emotion-packed songs like "Piece of My Heart," "Ball and
Chain" and "Get it While You Can," the show makes it impossible to sit still.
This would be a great piece in any region but it has extra resonance
here because of its focus on the San Francisco rock scene. The show
covers things many people here remember all too well from the
Haight-Ashbury hippies to the crazy fashions and all-night concerts.
Conceived adapted and directed by Randal Myler ("Hank Williams: Lost
Highway"), the musical is based on the 1992 biography of the same
name by Joplin's younger sister Laura.
Presented in Modesto by Columbia Artists Theatricals, the show tells
the story of Joplin's brief musical career. It begins when she
arrived in the Bay Area from her native Texas and ends with her
tragic death at age 27 in 1970 from an accidental heroin overdose.
All the spoken lines are Joplin's actual words and come from her
letters to her family or media interviews.
In a twist, which works well, two women play Joplin one does the
singing and the other does most of the speaking.
Mary Bridget Davies, who did the singing part Friday (she alternates
with Andra Mitrovich), brings the house down with her powerful pipes
and electrifying stage presence.
Dennis Lanigan, a Modesto resident who attended Friday's show and who
used to play keyboard in a band that sometimes shared bills with
Joplin, said he was impressed with how well Davies pulled off
Joplin's no-holds barred singing style.
Eva Shure, who looks and sounds a little like Amy Poehler from
"Saturday Night Live," is appealing and sweet as the private Janis
that her fans never knew. Through her, we learn that Janis had a
softer side that she adored her dog, missed her mother, was teased
a lot in high school and college, enjoyed reading and longed for romance.
It's touching to discover that a performer who was so fearless and
brazen onstage had a lot of the ordinary insecurities and worries we all face.
A tight four-piece band featuring keyboard, guitars and drums,
provides the accompaniment onstage in front of backdrop of swirling
psychedelic images. Everybody wears the hippest retro beatnik
fashions provided by costume designer Lorraine Venberg.
Out of the dozens of shows I've seen this season at the Gallo Center,
few have been more entertaining or affected the audience more
powerfully. This is definitely one of the hottest shows of the year.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or
Rating: 4 stars
Where: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
Running time: 2½ hours, including an intermission
When: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. June 21, 2 p.m. June 22
Information: 338-2100 or www.galloarts.org