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A Minute With: singer Mary Bridget Davies on channeling Janis Joplin

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cleveland-born blues singer Mary Bridget Davies had no idea when she auditioned for a part in "A Night With Janis Joplin" that a year later she would be playing the wailing, raspy voiced rock'n'roll legend on Broadway.

But a stroke of luck and a talent for transforming herself into the singer/songwriter, who died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27 in 1970, sealed the deal.

"I was asked at the last minute during previews, 'Oh my gosh, can you go on?' And I said, 'sure.' It was like a kiss on the forehead and a push on stage, and I secured the lead," Davies said in an interview.

With her wild hair, bell-bottoms, bangles and rich, guttural voice, Davies captures the 1960s rock star right down to her Texas twang. She won rave reviews during regional runs before the show's Broadway preview on September 20.

"This concert-as-theater achieves the exhilarating effect it desires. It's a portrait, more than anything else, of a romance: a singer in love with the cleansing embrace of the crowd," the Washington Post review read.

Davies, 34, spoke to Reuters about the responsibility of portraying Joplin on stage and why she felt the need to show the vulnerability of the explosive, brazen singer.

Q: How did you prepare for the role?

A: I read a lot about her. I've listened to her music and I've actually toured with Big Brother (Joplin's band, Big Brother & the Holding Company) so I've spoken to her friends and the people who actually knew her. Again and again, you would get this feeling that a lot of love surrounded her and how hysterically funny and brilliantly talented she was.

It just made it so much fun to read about her and watch the footage. I have her tapes that I used to watch in high school, just for entertainment. The joke is that I have been accidentally preparing for this role my whole life.

Q: Have you always been a fan?

A: Yes, since I was a little kid. There was always a special place for her with me, even though I did grow up listening to 'NSync and New Kids on the Block, and all the pop, and boy groups and swooning over that. But there was always time, I always came back. And blues music was Janis' complete foundation. Having that in common with her really helps me connect with her character.

Q: Was it intimidating playing a real person, especially someone like Janis Joplin?

A: Absolutely. There is such a responsibility to play a person who actually lived, who still has friends that remember, who still has fans that remember. It is a huge responsibility and I just go out there and try to be as honest and give away as much as I can because I think that is what she would do. And I think that is what she wants me to do.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of the role?

A: I would say keeping myself contained in order to keep doing it every night because you get up there and the adrenaline flows and you get so excited and you are screaming your head off and it's like, well I've got how many more shows this week? She just had that energy.

Q: Were there any particular characteristics about her that you really tried to embody?

A: As much as she was brazen, there was always this vulnerability to her. You could see it in glimpses. She never let you see it fully. But there were glimpses of that vulnerability, and of course the way she would deliver jokes. They were just brilliant. She had timing like nobody's business.

So I have to believe everything I am saying and doing to make it right. It was like peeking behind the curtain and seeing Janis, the little girl who wants everyone to like her because we all have that inside. But her outside persona was this brazen, wild person - getting to show that dichotomy.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Doina Chiacu)

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