‘One NIght With Janis’ more than cheap thrills

Distinctive voices seem to run in the Joplin family. Michael Joplin, brother of iconic singer Janis, intones in a CNN-worthy timbre when speaking about “One Night With Janis Joplin,” a biographical play about his sister onstage at San Jose Repertory Theatre.

It is not the first play about Janis to be staged. “Love, Janis” was adapted from Joplin’s sister Laura’s book.

“[‘Love, Janis’] presented more of her story, more of what we felt was lacking in terms of her honesty, her humor. This one is … this one is just fun! [People] know about her history, so let’s rock!” says Michael Joplin, a Southwest-based artist. Ten years younger than Janis, he is also executor of her estate.

Conceived, written and directed by Randy Johnson, “One Night with Janis Joplin” is just what it claims, a concert performance during which the artist sings her hits, ruminates on her life and sets some records straight along the way.

“The first album I ever remember hearing was by Dave Brubeck,” Johnson says. “The second album I remember hearing was Janis Joplin’s ‘Cheap Thrills,’ and I played three songs over and over and over until my parents told me to move the record player out to the garage.”

The Janis Joplin estate initiated a brief meeting with Johnson that turned into a two-hour conversation, resulting in a loan of some of her personal papers.

“The thing that struck me was that Janis was a smart, spiritual woman who had these remarkable influences — people like Bessie Smith, Nina Simone and Odetta — and we include that in the show,” Johnson says.

Janis Joplin’s career ended in 1970 and spanned less than a decade, but like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and other short-lived artists, her legend continues.

Michael Joplin remembers attending a concert at the Avalon in The City and thinking, “Yeah, that’s Janis, but look at these people. They are totally into her! I was so moved by the audience acknowledging Janis and being in love with her. It was a beautiful experience for our whole family.”

The new play lets him relive some of that feeling. “I am moved by the audience engagement and enjoyment of this portrayal of Janis.”

In a unique circumstance, the show — which had developmental productions around the country — will begin previews on Broadway with a different cast simultaneous to the San Jose run. “It’s unusual,” Johnson says, “but I also feel blessed as I’ve been able to explore changes for the Broadway production because of it.”

IF YOU GO

One Night With Janis Joplin

Where: San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 6

Tickets: $28 to $79

Contact: (408) 367-7255, www.sjrep.com

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