The seductive appeal of this musical hagiography by writer-director Randy Johnson is no mystery. Nineteen-sixties rock acts have proved effective boomer bait for fundraising PBS stations for years. That the trend should have morphed into the tribute-concert stage musical merely speaks to graying subscriber demographics and the perennial weakness of the elderly for mythologizing their youth. To Johnson's credit, though his Janis portrait is decidedly soft-focused, it is anchored by both a compelling staging concept and the sheer talent of its stars. Gravel-voiced Mary Bridget Davies belts her way through the iconic Joplin catalogue, delivering convincing approximations of the singer's vocal and stage mannerisms along with the world-weary, homespun aphorisms Joplin habitually ad libbed over song breaks. Onto these monologues, Johnson overlays both biographical tidbits and the show's argument that the white middle-class Joplin deserves a place in the blues canon alongside the black women singers that influenced her. The stage incarnation of those legends — Bessie Smith, Etta James, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin — are provided by the versatile gospel singer Sabrina Elayne Carten, and are one of the evening's most winning elements. Another is the precision fidelity of music supervisor Ross Seligman and his band. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through April 11. (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org.
Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m. Starts: Feb. 24. Continues through April 21, 2013
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