Zach Theatre is currently producing “One Night with Janis Joplin,” a musical-theatre journey through the highlights of Janis’s short-lived career. The production is staged concert style with Janis singing and narrating her life between songs. It is only midway through the show though that you hear a song immediately recognizable as one of Joplin’s.
The story line is thin as is originality but the production values meet the high-standards always associated with a Zach Theatre production. The set is fully realized and very interesting. The use of multiple projections and screens is stunning. The costumes are another matter. With the exception of the Blues Singer and the Joplinaires, the others in the cast were poorly styled. The wigs used looked fake and not appropriate for the style.
In addition to the above, the acting and musical performance from Cari Hutson, the understudy performing the night Austin Entertainment Weekly was present, was below par. Ms. Hutson sang beautifully and is beautiful. The problem is Janis Joplin was not a beauty nor did she sing beautifully. Hutson lacked the coarseness that made Joplin so iconic. Ms. Hutson reminded me of Celine Dion trying to impersonate Janis Joplin.
Even though this was show is titled “One Night with Janis Joplin,” the performance I saw should have been called “One Night with a Blues Singer.” Tiffany Mann as the Blues Singer stole the show with her sassy demeanor, fantastic voice, and knowing smile. The Joplinaires, played by Felicia Dinwiddie and Tricky Jones, were also a fun addition to the otherwise boring story.
With all that said and with the caveat that I saw an added show with the understudy playing the lead role, the show was decent. Not amazing but decent. In the interest of full disclosure, I must add that I am not a huge fan of live music concerts. That could have contributed to my not being impressed with this show. However, the combination of Hutson, who is too pretty to be Janis, and the lack of creativity in the storyline force me to rate it as 3 of out 5 stars.