Has the great Music, Lacks the story
By Iride Aparicio

Photos by Kevin Berne

KACEE CLANTON center, as the iconic JANIS JOPLIN
KACEE CLANTON center, as the iconic JANIS JOPLIN

SAN FRANCISCO, CA –  To celebrate  the coinciding  50th anniversary of American Conservatory Theatre  (A.C.T.) founding and  the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love” in the Haight/Ashbury district in the city,  since June 14th  A.C.T. will present on its stage  Writer/Director’s  RANDY JOHNSON Broadway’s acclaimed musical “A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN”.

Called  “The Queen of Rock’n’ Roll,” in the sixties, COPLIN possessed a unique and amazing tone of voice (slightly nasal) that could raise up the scale and slide down emitting mellow full tones, that  in a second, could be transformed  into  a passionate ear-splitting cry similar to one of a tortured soul.



JOPLIN, exploded in the Rock musical world like a Nova star that burned fast. She was born in Port Arthur Texas in l943, and first rose to stardom as the front woman of San Francisco psychedelic band "Big Brothers and the Holding Company" in the late 60’s singing a repertoire of Rock, Blues Rock and Hard Rock. Young people loved her. It has been reported that in l967, over l00.000 “flower children” (as the hippies called themselves) converged on the Haight-Ashbury district to hear her sing.

A few years later, she left the group for a career as a solo artist which commercially was successful. Her personal life, however, was a roller coaster of drug addiction, alcoholism and many failed relationships.

While JOPLIN  died at age 27  in Los Angeles on October 4,  l970 for Heroine Overdose, she continues living in her recordings of  unforgettable songs such as “Try a little bit harder,Down on me,” “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Mercedes Benz” to name a few.

“A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN” is a two hour show which imagines interactions between JOPLIN (KACEE CLANTON) and five female African American musicians who she cites where the major influences in her life when she was growing up in Texas. In the show, JOPLIN’s  songs are interwoven with her telling the audience snippets of her life. 

We learned that her mother did her housework with both her daughters listening to recordings of Broadway’s shows, and that JOPLIN, was inspired to sing Blues by listening to Blues and to the music of the CHANTELS, (SHARON CATHERINE BROWN, (who also represents( Blues singer)  ASHLEY TAMAR DAVIS, (who also represents Aretha Franklin, and Nina Simone) TAWNY DOLLEY (who also represents Etta James)  and SYLVIA MACCALLA (who also represents Odetta and Bessie Smith).

JOPLINalso listened to the recording of Bessie Smith (1894-l937).  Odetta (l930-2008)   Nina Simone (l933) Etta James ( l938-2012) and Aretha Franklin (l942) learning from them and trying to imitate their styles.

The singers in  the San Francisco Premier of “A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN have quality in their voices. Eeach one masters several styled.  As Janis, KACEE CLANTON is so good in her vocal renditions of JOPLIN’s songs that a few sound even better than  JOPLIN’s recordings.

KACEE has a beautiful tone in her voice and she masters her tone changes, breathing and volume going from a soft tone to a loud cry with ease, never screaming and never losing her pitch. She is also a masterful performer  who represents the stage mannerisms of  JOPLIN’s so well, than those who remember JOPLIN, admit that is "exactly" how JOPLIN behaved during her concerts.

Excellent also in this show are the members of JOPLIN's band, specially the two players of the electric guitars.

In the year 2013, “ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN” also a musical written by Writer/Director JOHNSON, opened the 2013-2014 Season of the now defunct San Jose REP in San Jose.

In structure, the musical was similar to ”A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN” and KACEE CLANTON was the star, bit the difference between the shows was that the first one used projections which allow the audience to see the Haight/Ashbury District during the 60's with the “Flower Children” walking barefooted on the street, handling flowers to people or sitting in the front steps of their houses playing their electric guitars.

The Fragments of JOPLIN's conversation in were longer than they are in this show and more informative. The audience learned that JOPLIN always had felt as a“misfit” at school and “unwanted” as a child at home, where her mother had told her that she (the mother) wished that she had never have been born. Because of it, she grew up starving for love.

She ran away from home and moved to Amarillo, Texas, where at a bar, met the man who brought her to S.F. She returned home, a few years lateer, but her “little town” was unable to understand her mind and longings, not even her family. So she returned to California and became a hit in Monterey's Pop concert “Summer of Love.” Where the recording of “Piece of my Heart” sold millions of records.

This story is missing in the new musical.  In "A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN" the work does not show the audience JOPLIN’s degradation into drugs at the end. Perhaps because of it, it may leave many, unable to understand that in the lyrics of JOPLIN’s songs, she was not singing, she was confessing her feelings. That her painful cries come from her broken heart, that all that rage she could express on the stage, was the pent up rage se felt in living, knowing that in spite of being loved by millions, she was alone.

For those interested in JOPLIN’s story, the first version of the musical was better. This one, is more flashy, excellently performed, but does not allow the audience to see her end, which may be implied when she sings that she is going to Rock on her  way to heaven.

For those lovers of Rock music “A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN" is a must-see-show. Because of demand, the musical will continue selling tickets A.C.T. Geary Theater (415 Geary Street in San Francisco until Sunday July 16.  For tickets call the A.C.T. Box Office at 415-749-2228 or order them online at www.act-sf.org.