Janis Joplin has had a piece of Randy Johnson’s heart ever since he heard her Cheap Thrills album when he was 5 years old.
“Janis had always been part of my conscious and subconscious,” says Johnson, the writer and director of One Night With Janis Joplin, a theatrical re-creation of a Joplin concert, now onstage at the Pasadena Playhouse in Southern California and soon to be on view in other cities.
When Johnson was growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of Culver City, his music-loving parents had a substantial record collection. Cheap Thrills, the 1968 release that includes Joplin’s version of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Summertime,” is one of the first albums he recalls hearing. So Johnson, who has a long résumé of theatrical and TV projects, was most receptive when, a few years ago, Jeff Jampol, the manager of Joplin’s estate, asked if he’d like to put together a musical based on the late singer’s life and career.
Jampol arranged for Johnson to meet with Joplin’s brother and sister, Michael and Laura. Johnson talked with them for hours, and he learned that Joplin had talents beyond music; she was a gifted painter, she designed her own costumes, and she was totally in control of her career and image. The family also gave him access to Joplin’s unpublished writings.
He took all this information home with him and pondered how to put the show together. Johnson, who has written, directed, or produced shows on musical figures as diverse as Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, and the duo of Louis Prima and Keely Smith (his godmother), wanted to make sure he wasn’t repeating himself in any way.