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Arts & Entertainment

Review: Room 105: The Highs and Lows of Janis Joplin

From Issue: Volume XX - Number 24

By Ben Miles

Some called her “The Queen of Psychedelic Soul.” Many proclaimed her as “The Queen of Rock and Roll.” Those closest to her knew her as Pearl. However you refer to her, Janis Joplin was a pop phenomenon of legendary proportions.

Not only was Joplin a one-of-a-kind vocalist, she was a painter, a dancer and a music arranger. “Rolling Stone” magazine put Joplin at 46 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artist of All Time; she was rated at 28 on that publication’s 2008 roster of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

Though Joplin died in 1970, from a drug overdose, her raw, cut-to-the-bone vocal stylings live on as part of the legacy of the sizzling sixties. Now, So Cal audiences can get a glimpse of Joplin’s quirky charisma and soulful signing in “Room 105: The Highs and Lows of Janis Joplin”— an original rock musical written and directed by Gigi Gaston – with Sophie B. Hawkins giving it her heartfelt all in the title role.

Although Hawkins’ portrayal is riveting and the live four-piece band can be rousing, Gaston’s narrative is muddled and unfocused. While there are other players sharing the stage at various intervals – David Veach does a credible characterization of talk show host Dick Cavett; Jeremy Lucas is energetic as Seth; Leslie Marrero is intense as Jae; Rae Toledo is daring in the role of Leslie; and Lou Mulford is believably dowdy as Janis’ mother – it would be preferable to unclutter the stage of other actors and create a singular tribute to Janis Joplin. That, however, would entail putting Hawkins onstage with just the backup band and letting her loose with Joplin tunes.

As it is, the power of Joplin’s music remains but it is done a disservice by a less than worthy script. Nevertheless, when Hawkins – attired in crushed velvet bell-bottoms, bracelets and flowing boas of various lengths and colors (costuming by Leslie Shank) – belts out such wrenching melodies as “Piece of My Heart,” “Ball and Chain,” “Cry Baby” and “Me and Bobby McGee” it’s as if Janis is among us and living large.

With overly-crowded choreography, by Bonnie McMahan (who is also part of the ensemble), on the small stage of the Macha Theater (set and lighting design by Douglas D. Smith) we get the feeling of 1960s free-for-all debauchery. The moves are frenetic, muscular and seemingly mindless – as in that famously quoted line of Dr. Fritz Perls, “Lose your mind and come to your senses.”

Still, whatever the dramatic shortcomings of the effort, it is magnificent to witness Sophie B. Hawkins inhabit this role. Hawkins is thinner and more physically attractive than Janis Joplin ever was; she’s also about 15 years older than Joplin was at the time of her death (though the playwright attempts to justify the return of an older, wiser Joplin, in a most metaphysical way). But Hawkins’ voice captures the unvarnished, flesh-scraping, heart-pounding quality that made Joplin such a distinctive sound (and sensation). And that makes it all worth it.

“Room 105: The Highs and Lows of Janis Joplin” continues indefinitely at the Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Matinees are at 3 p.m. Sundays. Running time is 90 minutes. For reservations, dial (323) 960-1055. For online ticketing and further information,