Though it was a misadventure when producers of A Night with Janis Joplin tried to mount an Off-Broadway production of the show immediately after the Broadway show’s premature folding in 2014, the musical starring the Tony-nominated Mary Bridget Davies is back—as a North American tour.
Davies, who also fronts her own band, the Mary Bridget Davies Group, opened the Joplin show last week in Toronto and will play the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT, February 24. Other dates include mostly one-nighters in large markets including Detroit, Chicago and Des Moines and smaller ones, like Lynn, MA; Reading, PA; and Hampton, VA.
After a short-lived Broadway run at the Lyceum Theatre, which ended in February 2014, producers attempted to transfer the show to Off-Broadway’s Gramercy Theatre. But on the final rehearsal that April, the cast and crew were told the show’s opening in two days would be scratched and the run canceled. The show closed “in the best interests of our investors/co-producers,” according to a statement issued by the producers at the time.
“I think it was just a matter of timing,” now says Dan Chilewich, one of the producers. “It was always our intention to tour the show, but when the [Broadway] production closed that touring cycle was [already] over—the timing could not have been worse. We thought we could do an Off-Broadway installation until the time we could tour, but we just didn’t have enough lead-time to sell tickets.”
The show, commissioned by the Joplin estate and conceived, written and directed by Randy Johnson, began at regional theatres in 2011. The Broadway production was in partnership with The Cleveland Play House and Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, where it had previously played in 2013.
The Off-Broadway venture’s abrupt closing made headlines at the time, leaving cast and crew—some in tears—devastated at the news.
But after nearly two years, the tour of the bio-musical about Joplin, the legendary '60s rock and blues singer, has Davies returning to the role that earned her the Tony nomination. (The cast album of A Night With Janis Joplin was released on Broadway Records. The tour also coincides with the recent release of a documentary about the singer, Janis: Little Girl Blue.)
The negative press from the Off-Broadway closing two years ago has had no effect on the tour, says Chilewith, who reports 90 percent capacity for their first date.
Davies, a Cleveland native, had previously performed Joplin’s songs in her own band as well as on an international tour with Joplin’s original band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. She also played in a national tour of the two-person play Love, Janis in 2005.
She originally turned down the offered role in one of the regional productions of A Night With Janis Joplin.
“I was writing my own album at the time and touring with my band and I was worried that I would be pigeon-holed as ‘that Janis Joplin girl’ or ‘a one trick pony.’ So I said, ‘Thank you, but no.’”
But a year later she said yes. “By this time my own band had become successful, the album was out, and I felt confident that I could keep things in balance: be myself and be her, too. And I was particularly touched by the script.”
Davies says listening to her name announced for a Tony nomination—after not only the Broadway show closed but just after the off-Broadway production collapsed—was “surreal.”
“I was in bed in New York City and there was Lucy Liu saying the names and I thought, ‘I surely didn’t hear what I heard.’ Maybe I was hallucinating, I thought.”
Jessie Mueller eventually won the trophy for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Idina Menzel, Sutton Foster and Kelli O’Hara were the other nominees), but Davies says simply receiving the nomination exceeded her expectations for her Broadway bow.
Davies says some people who had not seen her in the show—which focuses on Joplin’s music and influences through stage patter and song—may have thought of her as simply a rocker doing a cover gig on Broadway. But she is proud that her acting chops—she studied acting and dance when she was younger—were recognized by the nod. She says she “felt warmly embraced by the whole Broadway community. I was so bowled over.”
She would love to return to the stage for another acting role, recently tweeting that she would love to play Simone in “Can-Can.”