By Iride Aparicio

Photos courtesy S.J. Rep

KACEE CLANTON as Janice Joplin in RANDY JOHNSON’ musical

SAN JOSÉ, CA San José Rep calls its 2013-2014 season “A Season of Innovation” and by the way it started, one can say that it is exactly what it is going to be. What would possible be more innovative  than open its season by regresing the audience (via the magic of multi-media) to the  San Francisco of the l960’s?

On press opening night, watching  “ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN,” we  visited the  Haight/Ashbury district. It was the home of  the  “flower children” as the artists, poets and musicians of those years call themselves. They "did their own thing"  sitting in front of their houses' doors reciting their poems, or playing their electric guitars, or walked barefooted on the sidewalks handling fresh-cut flowers to everyone. We walked into a bar at night, as as we enter, we heard a combination of a mellow, husky and explosive woman's voice singing with a band. It was the voice of “The Queen of Rock’n’ roll” Janis Joplin.

In the musical, based on Joplin's life,  we do not only hear Joplin sing (in the voice of  KACEE CLANTON who plays the character) but we also hear Joplin talk.  In very short fragments, with lots of conviction, she tells the audience chunks of  her life: She was born in Port Arthur Texas on January 19, l943. She loved the blues when she was growing up, and was inspired to begin singingin by many singers of the sixties, among them the “Lady of Soul,” ARETHA FRANKLIN, ETTA JAMES the Blues, soul and Jazz singer. ODETTA, the voice of the Civil Rights Movement. BESSIE SMITH, NINA SIMONE, to name a few. Her life story is not complete, but one could use her short bites as one uses "love beats," string them together and get to know her a little better. If we do, we understand her motivation: all JANIS JOPLIN ever wanted from life was to be loved for who she was. Her soul-stirring journey through life was vey short; only 26 years long. Yet, during those years, she constantly struggled to either do what she wanted to do, or to please her mother.

Feeling as a “misfit” at school, and “unwanted” at home (her mother had told her once that she wished that she had never have been born) Janis grew up starving  for love. “You already know what you need,” she says sadly in the musical, “you already know what you want.”  

Searching for the love she wanted, she ran away from home and moved to Amarillo, Texas, where she got a job singing in a bar. There she met a man and thinking that she has found "love", she went to San Francisco with him. It was l967, and S.F. was regarded at that time as the focal point of the counterculture, alcohol, drugs. Sadly, when her lover  left her, she had a “melt down” and returned to her home in Texas.  But her “little town ” was unable to understand her mind, her talent, her longings. Even her family was unable to understand her, so she returned to California, where she became a hit at the “Summer of Love” singing at the Monterey pop festival, went solo, was signed with Columbia Records, and with a “Piece of my Heart” song, sold millions of records and became a sensation. Perhaps it was at that moment, that Janis learned to “act,” to present a fake façade of self assurance to her fans to cover her insecurities. And as JANIS JOPLIN the singer became adored by millions, JANIS JOPLIN the person, continued feeling not worthy to be loved. So every night, after the lights on the stage faded,  in the darkness, damped by the mist of the fog, Janis Joplin enterted her house alone.


The Blues l singer and Janis singing a duet together

Janis Joplin was a singer, so it is appropriate that the musical relates her life through her songs. We should listen  carefully to the lyrics of those songs because they tell us her story much better than words. Singing them, as JANIS JOPLIN, they come out of CLANTON's mouth perfectly vocalized, and with a loaded with feeling.  CLANTON is not only a great singer, but also a wonderful actress who by mastering her role, manages to move our hearts. When she talks,  we believe her words, and when she sings, her voice conveys the correct feeling for each one of her words.  Because of it, we experience  her suffering in “Piece of my heart” “Turtle Blues”  “A Woman left lonely” “Cry Baby.” We feel her anger in “I’m Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven.”  CLANTON’s acting the role of Janis Joplin, can only be described as magnificent.

Mixed with her songs in the musical, are the songs sang by  “the other singers.” They represent the "voices" of the singers that inspire young Janis to sing. They are good powerful singers who sing their songs as solos or in group by the different members of a group called  “The Blues Singers,” formed by: SHINNERRIE JACSON, TRICKY JONES and TIFFANY MANN. They sing, and dance, different styles of songs: Gospel songs, Blues, Rock songs and even Classical songs such as “Summertime” from the opera "Porgy and Bess" and they also have feeling. The songs are accompanied by a band under Director DAVID MÖSCHLER who also plays the keyboards. The band's members are: HUNTER ST.MARIE playing first guitar, MASON RAZAVI playing  guitar 2, WILL KRAUSE, playing bass, HARRELL WILLIAMS at the drums, OSCAR PANGILINAN, playing tenor sax, MIKE GUILLESPIE playing   trumpet 1 and JUSTIN SMITH playing trumpet 2. All excellent musicians.

While the musical shows Janice drinking all the time, it does not mention her addictions at all. Sadly, we remember that she lost her life because of those drugs. 

In both his writing, and his direction, JOHNSON succeeds in giving the audience a graphic picture of  Janis Joplin, showing her slow disintegration by her choice of songs. When we first meet her, she is singing the blues. She sings them in a full, voice and a mellow tone. Then we observe that her songs’ lyrics and genre, are changing, her tone of voice is sounding more rough now.  At the end of the show, when she sings “I’m gonna Rock my Way to Heaven” her last song, CLANTON's voice shows her rage, her performance on the stage looks almost hysterical, her lyrics now come out of her mouth with a raspy sound.  ClANTON is singing; Joplin is really crying, and those songs are her tears. Her loudness, is a pleading for help. Moving both her hands over her head she now physically pleads for attention filling the auditorium with the power of her voice. Nobody seems to care. Her volume rises, she is screaming now. It is CLANTON's as her best. Her last scene, and it is magnificent.

A wonderful rendition of a song by KACEE CLANTON as JOPLIN

ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN, the 2 hours 20 minutes musical has been extended by popular demand, until Oct. 6.  For ticket one can call the box office of San Jose Rep  at 1-408 367-7255 or order tickets online at www. Sjrep.com

One Night with Janis Joplin's Highlight

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Video Courtesy of San Jose Repretory Theater