‘Love’ letters

Janis Joplin musical rocks in its San Francisco debut

“It’s not easy living up to Janis Joplin.”

One would be hard-pressed to argue with that statement, even Joplin, who said that line herself to a badgering reporter during an interview.

So how have actresses Morgan Hallett and Cathy Richardson made it look so easy?

Both women take turns playing the revered rock icon in the musical “Love, Janis,” which after years of kicking around stages across the United States, received its long-awaited San Francisco debut at the Marines Memorial Theatre on Sunday.

Hallett heads up the show’s monologues, while Richardson resurrects Joplin’s vocals and on-stage persona, and is backed by a full-fledged rock band.

Despite roles that could easily illicit bad cover versions of the original, both women instead manage flawless interpretations of the famed singer, performing with undeniable conviction and sincerity.

They own it and they rock it.

Directed by Randal Myler, who adapted the script from the book “Love, Janis,” written by Joplin’s sister Laura, the staged story captures the singer’s life from 1966 to 1970, when the then 23-year-old left Port Arthur, Texas, for the hotbed of psychedelic culture, San Francisco.

Tweaking the ever-popular jukebox musical format, “Love, Janis” transforms the genre that, for the most part, has produced thinly veiled, glorified concerts, (i.e. “Lennon,” “Movin’ Out,” among other disasters) into bona fide theater.

All dialogue spoken in the show is culled from letters the singer wrote to her family in Port Arthur and from print, radio and television interviews.

Joplin’s letters and interviews reveal an incredibly intelligent, articulate, insightful and unstoppably charming young woman.

Another departure from the jukebox musicals format, where the dialogue is really only filler between the show’s songs, “Love, Janis” is a show with a legitimate story line. The songs are a natural accompaniment and not the driving force behind the narrative, an oft-failed technique so many similarly staged shows try to effect

The dialogue is every bit as compelling as the show’s beautifully executed rock elements that resurrect Joplin’s memory with the perfect blend of affection and accuracy.

Also key is Richardson and Hallett’s ability to truly share the role versus simply dividing it up.

The actresses exact seamless chemistry; interactions are graceful and synchronized, culminating in a beautiful rendition of “Little Girl Blue,” sung by Richardson to Hallett after an audio clip confirms the singer’s premature death.

“Love, Janis” is more than a tribute. It is an invigorating production that does everyone involved pleasing justice.

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