The concept behind Portland Center Stage’s production of One Night With Janis Joplin is a good one: bring the Janis Joplin concert experience back on stage and give modern audiences a taste of what it was like to see her in concert. Unfortunately, the production, created, written and directed by Randy Johnson, is one big hot mess. Johnson has a fairly impressive resume with a number of other stage music re-experiences including Elvis The Concert, Always Patsy Cline, and Conway Twitty – The Man The Music and The Legend. Johnson also has extensive experience directing actual concerts and tours. All this experience, however, doesn’t result in a good show.
One Night With Janis Joplin suffers on a number of fronts. The first and most serious issue with the show is an absolutely horrible script. The play never can make up its mind if it’s a singular concert experience or a journey through Janis Joplin’s life. Many of the monologues that happen between or during songs are just one step up from ramblings. In the first act many of these monologues focus on “The Blues” and the other artists who influenced Joplin. Johnson seems obsessed with these influences and at times the show feels like it’s more an essay on The Blues than a show about Joplin herself. This obsession manifests itself in the creation of another character who wanders in and out of the show, ‘The Blues Singer’. This character comes on stage to represent many of the women who influenced Janis Joplin’s music. The role is voiced wonderfully by Sabrina Elayne Carten, whose rendition of classic Nina Simone, Bessie Smith and Aretha Franklin songs are some of the absolute highlights of the show.