Dubbed the Queen of psychedelic soul, Janis Joplin is perhaps Rock ‘n Rolls most tragic leading lady. Prodigiously talented, she mesmerised audiences with her uninhibited, drug-addled performances. Had she not died at just 27 years of age, Joplin would have celebrated her 73rd birthday on 19th January this year.
Producer/Director, Chris Keeble’s fascination with the story behind this brilliant, self-destructive performer led her to create Pearl – The Janis Joplin Show which attempts to explore some of the myths and mysteries behind this tragic entertainer.
Integral to the success of this show is another extraordinary singer, Liza Ohlback who, while denying that she is doing an impersonation, still manages to nail the sound and essence of Joplin’s idiosyncratic performance style with astonishing accuracy.
Ohlback doesn’t hold back. For nearly two hours, costumed in the type of opp-shop chic that Joplin affected, she pours out her heart in powerhouse versions of the Joplin repertoire, without any signs of vocal weariness. Quite a tour de force, especially considering that towards the end of her career, Joplin’s voice would not allow her to perform for more than 45 minutes at a time.
Me and Bobby Magee, Mercedes Benz, Try Just a Little Bit Harder, Piece of My Heart, To Love Somebody and Joplin’s extraordinary treatment of Gershwin’s Summertime are all included in the generous selection from her prolific catalogue of hits. Each song is superbly interpreted by Ohlback, supported by images of Joplin in performance projected on to a large screen behind her, and an excellent four-piece band.
Throughout, Ohlback provides just enough contexts for each song with well-researched facts about the singer, her songs and career. Guitarist, Jeremy Edwards, leads the band, which successfully captures the drive and intensity of the Joplin’s songs while providing strong accompaniment for Ohlback’s thrilling vocals.
Besides being a fine guitarist, Edwards also proves to be an impressive singer, contributing moody versions of two songs inspired by Joplin – Bob Dylan’s Just Like a Woman and The Chelsea Hotel, written by Leonard Cohen after an encounter with Joplin.
Well-structured, continuously entertaining and informative, Pearl – The Janis Joplin Show is a must-see for anyone with even a passing curiosity about why Janis Joplin’s musical legacy and tragic life continues to fascinate. It’s also a superb showcase for the extraordinary talents of Liza Ohlback who in celebrating the legacy of Janis Joplin, also manages to leave an indelible impression of her own.
Pearl – The Janis Joplin Show is touring widely so watch out for it in your town. It’s the closest you’ll get to understanding what it was like to experience Janice Joplin live.
Pearl – The Janis Joplin Show
The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Saturday 5 March 2016
For more information, and upcoming performances, visit: www.pearljanisjoplin.com.au for details.
Image: Liza Ohlback in Pearl – The Janis Joplin Show (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens