Mary Bridget Davies Embodies the Late Singer Janis Joplin in Musical

Adam Larson
Mary Bridget Davies has lived and breathed Janis Joplin.
Mary Bridget Davies spent years trying to crack the code of replicating Janis Joplin’s distinct voice. She recalls attempting to sing like her with her cover band one evening.

“I was 22 and I sang ‘Try’ and I blew my voice out halfway through it,” says Davies. “I just learned over time how to manipulate my voice to emulate her, but without hurting myself.”

It's an understatement to say that Davies is a huge fan of Pearl. The Night with Janis Joplin star screamed her lyrics growing up and even dressed up as her idol for Halloween one year. In 2005, Davies won the opportunity to portray her idol when she was cast for the lead in the Off-Broadway production Love, Janis after leaving college.

“(Joplin) was just mythical to me,” says Davies. “I couldn’t understand the way she sang. I couldn’t understand the way she moved. She was literally the original female rock star.”

Davies started as a competitive dancer. She joined choirs and was in musical theater until she graduated high school.

“But when I got to college I thought, ‘Why am I going to school for what I want to do when I could be doing it right now?’” Davies says.

She left Bowling Green State University and began to sing blues gigs at clubs and bars. She formed the blues band The Mary Bridget Davies Group and toured with them until 2012. She also toured with Joplin’s original band Big Brother and the Holding Company. Then in 2013, she auditioned for A Night With Janis Joplin.

Davies was originally the understudy but was asked to perform for that show when the show arrived in her hometown of Cleveland.

“(The lead) had told me, ‘Oh my God, when I told my roommates who my understudy was, they couldn’t believe it because all they could do was sit and listen to me practice to your YouTube videos,’” Davies said.

The audience was blown away by Davies' performance. Artistic director Michael Joplin (who is also Janis' brother) and director Randy Johnson asked if she would take the stage again.

She’s been playing Joplin ever since and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical in 2014 for her efforts. The audience witnesses her re-creating one of Joplin’s iconic performances, from her feather boa and frizzled hair to the flare jeans and vibrant jewelry.

A Night With Janis Joplin is set up like a TV special put on by the singer while celebrating her music and the blues singers and icons that inspired, including Aretha Franklin and Etta James. But Davies isn’t trying to be an exact copy of Joplin on stage at all. She says that trying to impersonate her idol would be offensive to the singer's memory.

“It’s more of an essence, not an impersonation. It’s like I’m being a puppet,” Davies says. “My movements come from a much more natural space, and I just try to inhabit her body and space and how she would perform.”

Davies has starred in the musical for six years and counting. She even delayed labor when she was pregnant with her son in 2017 so she could watch the night's performance. Even in her new role as a mother, Davies isn’t planning on putting the microphone down just yet.

“I will never put an expiration date on it,” Davies says. “I will know physically when I’m done. It would be doing her a disservice to be going out and doing a 75 percent show. I don’t know when it’ll be, but as long as I can do it with the fullness of my heart, I will.”

A Night with Janis Joplin is scheduled for Saturday, October 19, at Celebrity Theatre. Tickets are available via Ticketforce.

Editor's note A previous version of this article stated Davies won a Tony Award. We deeply regret the error.