April 26, 2014

The sudden, shocking death of Janis Joplin... the big Broadway show.

"I mean, shows close all the time — I get that. But what happened with ‘Janis’ was surreal," said one of the performers. But what was surreal?
"A Night With Janis Joplin," a bio-musical about this towering 1960s singer and the black musicians like Aretha Franklin who inspired her...

Several actors in the Broadway run said they became worried that their producers lacked savvy, particularly about attracting audiences. One cast member, De’Adre Aziza, a Tony Award nominee for “Passing Strange,” said in an interview that she and others had urged the producers to reach out to black theatergoers by highlighting Ms. Franklin, Bessie Smith and other characters through television appearances and magazines like Ebony and Essence. These ideas mostly went nowhere, Ms. Aziza said. (The producers said in their statement that they had an “open-door policy” with the cast to hear their marketing ideas and hired a consultant with expertise in reaching black audiences.)
So... they're trying to attract the aging Baby Boomers to something like that big show about The 4 Seasons ("Jersey Boys"), a show about a beloved pop star of the 1960s, but there's also this big racial theme, about all the black singers whose stellar efforts that beloved — and white!!! — singer appropriated. Is it nostalgia for Boomers, more racial lessons for white people, or something that could have benefited from outreach to black theatergoers.

Would black people go to a Broadway show about a long-dead white female singer if only they knew that there are also some black characters, the singers who influenced that white singer? I'd asked what was supposed to be surreal, and the closest thing to surreal seems to be that you could sell a lot of tickets to black people this way. There's an Aretha Franklin character and a Bessie Smith character in a big musical about Janis Joplin. Why isn't the main character Aretha Franklin or Bessie Smith? The answer must be: There seemed to be more money in Janis Joplin.

Here's the review in The Hollywood Reporter:
[T]he show continues the transformation of Broadway into one giant industrial Baby Boomer karaoke machine....

Actually, the title A Night With Janis Joplin is somewhat misleading. Joplin spends half the time ceding the spotlight to her inspirations... in a crowd-pleasing but ill-judged funk-gospel digression that threatens to hijack the show. There’s also an unnamed figure whose job is to hammer home that the blues is a woman thang, a message received in about a hundred minor permutations....

In the overwritten patter for Joplin that links the songs, [director-writer Randy] Johnson appears to be aiming to tap the collective spirit of oppressed womanhood thirsting for liberation across the decades....
Ah, what does Randy Johnson know about a woman thang? And that's not Randy Johnson, "The Big Unit," who hit a bird that one time, and it looked a little something like this:

29 comments:

MayBee said...

Lately we can't have any stories about women in different eras without having to include the storyline that she was so oppressed, aware she was oppressed, and would never be quite as happy with her life as she would have been in modern times.

As if people went through life imaging how much some future era held for them, and that future era is now.

But of course, we don't go through life imagining if we lived in 2067 we would finally be fulfilled.

EDH said...

When I saw, "A Night With Janis Joplin", I thought it was about the one date she had with William Bennett.

One date only for Bill Bennett and Janis Joplin

The eHarmony software would have never come up with this one: Back in the late ’60s, conservative commentator Bill Bennett went on a date with hippie icon Janis Joplin.

So says Bennett’s brother, Bob, in his recently released memoir, “In the Ring.”

So how’d it go? Bob says Bill told him at the time, “[L]et me put it this way, we were both disappointed.”

YoungHegelian said...

Maybe when looked at under the microscope, Janis Joplin's life moves from the category of "tragically cut-short" to "wantonly self-destructive" (e.g. drinking 12 oz glasses of bourbon like it was kool-aid on a regular basis). Her music was one thing. Her life was another, and her life was just depressing to read about.

The producer's name was Randy Johnson! Oh, come on! Where did he come from? The San Fernando Valley porn industry? How do you take a guy named Randy Johnson seriously unless he's starring aside (or in whatever position relative to) Tiffany Minx in I, Sexbot.

LarryK said...

It was the wrong Randy Johnson directing this show. A "Big Unit" knows its away around a woman thang.

jr565 said...

Broadway is now in it's remake phase. Regurgiate old crap and get baby boomers to pay bucks for fake nostaligia.

All it is paying big buck to see a glorified Kiss cover band.

Ann Althouse said...

I think Broadway should be like opera. Do the great old shows and pretty much forget about anything new. "Carousel" is like "Tosca," etc. etc. Just do the great stuff. I'd go!

DAN said...

I hope they included this...

I remember you well in Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend
You told me again you preferred handsome men
But for me you would make an exception

An' clenching your fist for the ones like us
Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty
You fixed yourself, you said, "Well, never mind
We are ugly but we have the music"

Kieth Nissen said...

Mitch Wilson, the drummer quoted, probably does not have a vast vocabulary and he thinks "surreal" is cool sounding. Doesn't mean much.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

"Meanwhile, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) informs Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) that her unlicensed Janis Joplin biopic is hard to sell due to test audiences not liking it. They decide to up the PR by going to the Kids Choice Awards...

"Jackie Jormp-Jomp" was filmed on February 11, 2009. This was the last time the show referenced Jenna trying to play singer Janis Joplin in a feature film. This plot first began in the January 8, 2009, episode "SeƱor Macho Solo" in which Jenna auditions to play the singer in a biographical movie."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Jormp-Jomp

RecChief said...

Maybe the show simply wasn't that good.

Occam's Razor, boys and girls.

gadfly said...

So we are talking about this Randy Johnson who gets rave reviews for the short-lived stage production of "A Night With Janis Joplin."

“A Night with Janis Joplin doesn't just take another little piece of our hearts in fact, it steals the whole thing." Harpers Bazaar.

As for "'Big Unit' and the Bird" - it will not play on Broadway either. But watch for Randy's newest musical effort entitled "Lincoln - The Man and the Car."

Carol said...

gee bessie smith would make a great story, but they'd mess it up

cubanbob said...

I think Broadway should be like opera. Do the great old shows and pretty much forget about anything new. "Carousel" is like "Tosca," etc. etc. Just do the great stuff. I'd go!"

The problem what that is that the old great stuff was once new. As the saying goes ninety percent of everything is crap and back in the day when opera was the popular music of the day most of the operas were crap as well. Carousel and Oklahoma were great musicals but even in the heyday of musicals most of them were not all that good. There aren't many revivals of stinkers.

The problem with theatrical performances is their cost. A night out to the theater is quite expensive so most people who do attend don't want to take a chance on a stinker so they rather go to a revival of something that is known to be good.

Fandor said...

No one is interested in spending "A Night With Janis Joplin".

Believe it or not, most people don't know who she was, or for that matter care.

Was she a remarkable talent or a flash in the pan?

No more than the thousands that have come after her.

Just another aspiring singer who squandered away her precious life with drugs.

It's time to move on. The paying public wants to.
They're enough living losers to watch in real time.

Let's Go On With The Show!

n.n said...

They should have started off-broadway, then moved their production to the main stage once a market was identified. The government model is wholly unsuitable for private enterprise.

RecChief said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

I was not shocked by the death of Janis Joplin.

I was completely unaware of it and her.

Imus played her Mercedes Benz song as a bumper, so she passed into my view briefly.

RecChief said...

just a question,,
How many casual music listeners can name more than 3 Janis Joplin songs?

Once you get past "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Piece of my Heart", I suspect most prople nowadays couldn't name more than one other song that she performed.

I've played both "Cheap Thrills" and "Big Brother and the Holding Company" (debut album) for my kids and they can't remember her name.

Big Mike said...

They trusted their producers? Didn't they ever see the movie or Broadway musical of the same name?

The Godfather said...

Can we please retire "surreal"?

John said...

Dan, you left out the best line about what Janis and Leonard were doing in the Chelsea Hotel:

"You were giving me head on the unmade bed"

I liked Janis back in the day but she has not endured. I would not walk across the street to see a Janis Joplin show.

Perhaps if she came back to earth as a zombie and still had those great pipes...

Maybe.


John Henry

jr565 said...

If they want to do a show about a singer I'd recommend a show about Sam Cooke. Interesting life, phenomenal performer, and ends in tragedy. Plus, the songs have a classic sound to them that would work well on broadway.

rhhardin said...

Derbyshire loves opera.

My own opinion is too much vibrato. If you can't find the note, don't sing.

Hoffnung has a cartoon of a basso with a 1 to 10 knob on his chest, "Wobble."

Monteverdi L'Orfeo was the last good opera.

Vibrato wasn't in, then.

St. George said...

The Carole King bio-musical "Beautiful" is fun.

Pure schmaltz.

Boffo.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Speaking of opera, and recently dogs, they go together. We had a pretty dog called Sadie who was taken back to the SPCA by prior owners. Though polite, she was not owned. My daughter was told she 'preferred women,' true enough although actually that turned out to be my daughter. One day, the WRR announcer (classical) said that 'the greatest tenor of the 20th century.. The 1912 recording came on and the dog ran up the stairs and stood by a speaker and ran down again after it was over. As she got older she got hemangiosarcoma, became tired and weak. My daughter called WRR for Command Performance, the listener call in, and related this story. They played Casta Diva (earth goddess) sung by Joan Sutherland. The dog began to listen, raised her had, smiled, turned her ear and then, after it was over put her head down, back somewhat to troubles. She died 3 days later.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Suppose the Producers got a lot of old hippie dudes to put up far more money than a 100% interest in the play, and then wanted the show to fold so they could keep the keep the loot. What? It's been done already?

Jupiter said...

Ball And Chain. Down On Me. Summertime.

John Lynch said...

The Urban Market.

Drago said...

Jupiter: "Ball And Chain. Down On Me. Summertime."

Jupiter, you're a regular Hemingway!