I am not really sure where to begin with my praise for Sophie B. Hawkins after seeing her commanding performance as Janis Joplin in Gig Gaston's new musical "Room 105 - The Highs and Lows" which ended its 4-month run tonight at the Macha Theatre in West Hollywood. I will start by saying that Hawkins is not playing Janis Joplin - she IS Janis from the moment she literally crawls onto the stage and belts out her first number.
All attitude and bravado, Hawkins embodies the tortured soul that was Janis from her high school days in Port Arthur, Texas where she was proclaimed the ugliest boy in her class, through her rise to prominence in the late 1960s as the lead singer of the psychedelic-acid rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and later as a solo artist with her more soulful and bluesy backing groups, The Kozmic Blues Band and The Full Tilt Boogie Band. From the Monterey Pop Festival to Woodstock, Janis knew how to grab her audience and inspire a mood of total freedom, and Hawkins brings all the magic to the stage. But like so many rock stars, Janis joined the infamous "Club 27" when she succumbed to an accidental drug overdose at age 27 in Room 105 at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood, CA.
Not only does Hawkins resemble Janis, she has her eclectic movements down to a science as well as knowing how to use a feather boa and floppy hat to bring Janis to life onstage. And of course she appears to guzzle enough Southern Comfort to knock this writer, and probably most in the audience, out cold.
Compared to Joplin ever since her own fast rise to stardom with the hit song "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover," Hawkins brings the iconic singer's music to life. Each of the show's 9 numbers was a triumphant, soulful rendition by Hawkins from "Piece of My Heart" to "Cry Baby" and my personal favorite "Me and Bobby McGee" during which the audience was invited to sing with her. And many of us did, including yours truly! And what a glorious band Hawkins has backing her up, under the direction of two-time Grammy Award-winning music producer Josh Sklair on guitar, Corey Coverstone on drums, Ed Roth on keyboard, and Daniel Pearson on Bass.
Kudos to Leslie Sank who designed the late-60's hippie wardrobe for Hawkins and her 4 very talented dancers, all of whom play smaller roles during the 90-minute show which runs without an intermission. Bonnie McMahan who plays the dancer Peggy in the show is to be commended for her time-appropriate choreography, utilizing the small stage to the best advantage possible. And you could certainly tell all the dancers were having the time of their lives backing up Hawkins with each memorable song.
As an added bonus at tonight's closing night performance, one of Janis' real friends was in the audience and spoke with me after the show. Don drove from Atlanta twice during the run to see the show and he agreed with me that Hawkins becomes Janis on the stage and truly represents who Janis was, right down to the cackle of her laugh. He also told me that when in Los Angeles, he stays in room 105 to feel close to Janis and to celebrate her life, not mourn her death. While there each October 4, Don meets and chats with her fans who come by to pay tribute to one of rock's true legends.
"Room 105 - The Highs and Lows of Janis Joplin" begins a national tour in February with its first stop in New Jersey, and more cities and dates will be scheduled so you too can be amazed as Sophie B. Hawkins brings Janis Joplin to life on a stage near you. Don't miss it!
Photo Credit: Ed Krieger