'She found her own voice': Janis Joplin lives again in theatrical production 'A Night with Janis'
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"A Night with Janis Joplin" will be staged Jan. 28.
Courtesy Celebrity Attractions

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

"She was hilarious, and she loved to laugh. That's how I remember her."

That's the late Janis Joplin's brother Michael who, for the past several years, has helped keep her legacy alive in a musical theater production, A Night with Janis Joplin.

The show, a special add-on for Civic Amarillo and Celebrity Attractions' Broadway Spotlight Series, will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28 in the Amarillo Civic Center Complex Auditorium, 401 S. Buchanan St. Tickets are $35 to $45, plus fees.

Michael Joplin was the baby of his Port Arthur family, born to Dorothy and Seth (an Amarillo native) after his sisters, Janis and Laura.

"I remember her as being incredibly smart, witty. ... Very well read. Our parents kind of pushed that on us," Michael Joplin said. "I see her as happy."

And, of course, with a once-in-an-era voice that could move mountains.

"She found her own voice. She found how to grow and how to reach the audience, how to be in touch with herself and put that on stage," he said. "Most entertainers don't really try to reach their inner core. Most people don't reach their inner core. When she was doing it on stage, it was pretty much a new thing.

"That's why she was drawn to people like Odetta and Billie Holiday, because they were reaching in to find their heart and putting it out on stage."

That's the side of Janis that her siblings hoped to show to audiences when they worked with writer/director Randy Johnson to develop A Night with Janis Joplin, which premiered in Washington, D.C., in 2013, then on Broadway later that year. It has toured the country ever since.

In the show, Joplin performs her hits — including “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Mercedes Benz,” “Cry Baby” and more — alongside actresses portraying her musical icons, such as Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone and Bessie Smith.

"It's not a cradle-to-grave thing, not a biography," Michael Joplin said. "It's mostly about her influences and why she sang what she sang. 

"What's fun is to watch Janis's reach all over the U.S. and all over the world," he continued. "As a brother, I'm proud as all get out about that."

When the show arrives in Amarillo, The Voice alum Katrina Rose Dideriksen will star as the late singer, who died of a heroin overdose at age 27 in 1970. 

Dideriksen had auditioned for the original Broadway cast several years ago, then was cast in an off-Broadway production that folded before previews even began, then eventually joined the tour.

"Janis is a hefty role, so they've always hired two 'Jani,' as we call them, to split up the load," Dideriksen said.

The stars (Kelly McIntyre plays Janis at other performances) are told not to try to impersonate the real-life Janis, Michael Joplin said.

"The last thing we wanted to do was to try to recreate Janis. That's a pointless exercise, I think," he said. "We ask the girls to find their inner Janis and to let it rock. ... They sing their voice in a Joplin-esque style. Their inner guts go out on stage like Janis' did. That was more important to us."

Dideriksen said she was drawn to the show because it gives such an intimate look into Joplin's life and career through her music, which began after she grew up as an outcast in Port Arthur, then found international fame as one of the biggest rock stars of her era.

"I feel like I've gotten this really awesome VIP window to things a lot of people don't know about," Dideriksen said. "People who are not so familiar with her may remember her as this scratchy-voiced drug addict, and there's so, so much more to her. She really was a trailblazer."

Image - KatrinaRose.pngThe actress, a North Carolina native, said she first encountered Joplin's version of "Summertime" as a young kid and immediately fell in love.

"I didn't know it was originally from (Porgy & Bess), that it was more of a classical song. I loved (Joplin's version) and I used to sing it in my room all the time," she said. "I remember in middle school, a girlfriend of mine came into chorus and was going to sing it. I remember thinking she had such an operatic voice that it would be weird.

"I was so mad that I came home and told my mom that she was totally ruining 'Summertime'," Dideriksen said, laughing. "I loved Janis and was so ready to defend her, but nope, she did not actually write the song."

Michael Joplin laughed heartily when I passed that anecdote on to him in a separate phone call.

"My parents thought she was ruining 'Summertime' (herself)," he said. "I love hearing that!"

He also still loves catching his sister in passing on the radio or hearing her music at performances of this show.

"I'm always in awe. They sing 'Mercedes Benz,' and everybody knows it. It blows my mind that it's a song that a family member of mine did," he said. "Or I walk into a restaurant or a grocery store and some Musak is playing in the background, and it's Janis. It's crazy. It's wonderful. I'm so proud."




Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and on Facebook.