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Another little piece of our hearts.

The idea of a musical based on the life of Janis Joplin was a little hard for me to swallow at first. Musical theater makes me think of

Rodgers and Hammerstein, an army of scantily clad tap dancers and impossibly happy endings--in a word, "cheese." Where would the rock icon herself, a heroin-addicted blues singer who suffered a premature and tragic death, fit into the picture? It seemed to make only marginally more sense than Kurt Cobain: The Musical.

The script of Love, Janis was adapted from a book of the same name, a collection of Joplin's own letters compiled by her younger sister, Laura. Lured by San Francisco's famous rising hippie scene, Joplin left her Texas home in her early 20s, and Love, Janis begins around the time of her arrival in San Francisco.

Comprised almost entirely of Joplin's own letters, interviews and songs, the play documents Joplin's rise to fame until her untimely death in 1970. In addition to showing Joplin's well-known wild and charismatic personality, it also reveals her as a sensitive, ambitious and articulate woman. Director Randal Myler successfully entertains while artfully taming the cheese.

Other than a backing band with a few odd lines, the play is a two-woman show. Look-alike Morgan Hallett plays "speaking Janis," while "singing Janis" is played by Cathy Richardson, an alt-country and rock singer, as well as a super sexy out lesbian. Because of the role's intense vocal demands, Richardson alternates performances with another singer--most recently, Katrina Chester.

Tall, blond and fair-skinned, Richardson doesn't bear a great physical resemblance to Joplin, though hearing her sing, you'd swear she was the real deal. Every note, every throaty twangy warble, lets you believe, if only for a minute, that you've seen the original. "[The role required] a lot of research," admits Richardson, who listened to Joplin's recordings hundreds of times in preparation. "I've done the show a few hundred times, and in that amount of time you can really craft something ... I did completely lose myself there for a while there."

The native Chicagoan joined the show's original cast in 1999. The role had first been offered to singer Beth Hart, who stepped down at the last minute. A friend of Richardson then told her about the role. "I kind of was interested but didn't think it was my thing. I don't do theater; I don't sound like Janis Joplin," Richardson says. "[But] I came and sang a few songs, and the whole time they were like, 'She looks like Beth, she sounds like Beth, she'll definitely fit in Beth's costumes. We won't even have to make new costumes! She's perfect!'"

After touring throughout the U.S., Richardson found it especially exciting to do the show in San Francisco, where Joplin lived and performed during the height of her career. "[In San Francisco] there's this total other wave of information that's just anecdotal from people that knew her," she says. Joplin was widely rumored to be bisexual, and according to Richardson, the rumors seem to have a pretty solid basis. "I'm just astounded at the sheer amount of people that she's slept with.... It's really been funny to me, all these people--men and women alike. These women are in their 60s, and they still get that twinkle in their eye when they talk about it."

Love, Janis has already extended its run several weeks in San Francisco; tour plans after that have not yet been confirmed.

Check for our full interview with Cathy Richardson, as well as updates on when Love, Janis may be hitting your hometown.
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Author:Plato, Catherine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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