Mary Bridget Davies likes to point out that she's been Janis Joplin "longer than Janis was Janis."
The Cleveland native is the Tony Award-nominated lead in "A Night With Janis Joplin," the Broadway musical that, as the title suggests, recreates the late Joplin's powerhouse live shows. That came after touring with another Joplin stageplay, "Love, Janis," starting in 2005 and also fronting Joplin's original band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.
So, yes, Davies has been singing Joplin's songs longer than Joplin, who died in 1970 at the age of 27. And since so many have never seen Joplin herself, there's a weight of responsibility that Davies feels every time she hits the stage.
"Absolutely, but it's also a gift because I can't even describe the way it feels when you're singing 'Me and Bobby McGee' or 'Piece of My Heart' and people just have these smiles on their face and there's tears rolling down their cheeks," Davies, 37, says by phone from Morristown, N.J. "And it's not for me; it's for their memories. It's for Janis.
"And to be the conduit to give that to people, it's the coolest most wonderful, most frightening responsibility."
Davies grew up singing, acting and dancing in Cleveland, as well as studying theater and music at Kent State and Bowling Green universities. Her parents introduced her to Joplin's music -- and noticed how easily their daughter was able to sing it. "I used to laugh with my mom about what a boutique gift it was to have," Davies recalls. "We were like, 'There's never gonna be a job for that,' and now here I am."
Davies initially opted not to audition for "A Night With Janis Joplin" when it first launched Off Broadway but came back when the show was being re-cast in 2012. She came in as an understudy but quickly assumed the title role, scoring nominations for both the Tony and for a Helen Hayes Award.
"It's literally, like, surreal," says Davies, who lost the Tony to Jessie Mueller from "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical," in 2014. "It's a whodathunkit kind of experience, although when I was a kid It was all about dance and theater, so of course if you asked my nine-year-old self I was gonna be a Tony nominee and a winner, but it was gonna be for '42nd Street or 'A Chorus Line' or something like that.
"So it was like a childhood dream come true, which is awesome."
Davies will stick with "A Night With Janis Joplin" for its three-month tour and then plans to resume recording her third album with her own band. But she's confident that there will be more dates ahead for the musical and that she'll always be singing Joplin's songs in some form or another for the rest of her life.
"(Joplin) was never a false performer," Davies explains. "As soon as the music started, she was completely plugged in, and she sang those songs like she was never going to get to do it again, and there was such a love for it.
"Especially growing up like I did in the 90s, with 'Star Search,' everything now is about being famous and then the craft later. And Janis was famous because she loved her craft so much, and that authenticity is way more appealing and I've still been geeking out every night and having the best time. It's just really good stuff."
"A Night With Janis Joplin"
8 p.m. Saturday, March 5
Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
Tickets are $35.50-$79.50.
Call 313-471-6611 or visit olympiaentertainment.com.
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