Photo: Akron Civic Theatre welcomes Broadway performer Mary Bridget Davies. Photo by Roger Durbin.
Mary Bridget Davies, a 2014 Tony Award nominee for best leading actress in a musical, will be performing at the Akron Civic Theatre on Sept. 19. Davies is appearing as part of The Club @ The Civic series, which involves a cabaret-style arrangement on the Knight Arts grantee’s main stage. In a telephone interview, the actress, singer and songwriter said she’ll be presenting new, original tunes that are part of an upcoming album.
Davies admitted that she is “happy to be doing” her own music, but she will also belt out a few Janis Joplin hits. She is closely associated with the late 1960s rock-and-roll personality because it is a part she has played more than once.
In 2005, Cleveland-born Davies landed one of the roles in “Love, Janis,” a two-person play about Joplin. I saw her early in 2006 in a regional production that toured through her home town, and Davies was wonderful in the role. The show involved two women, one who read emotionally revealing letters that Joplin had written, and another who belted out the singer’s angsty songs and communicated her emotional struggles through music.
Mary Bridget Davies. Photo courtesy of Akron Civic Theatre.
In 2013, Davies landed the lead role in the Broadway production of “A Night With Janis Joplin.” While other shows about the singer have focused on her drug addiction and sexual identity, Davies said, this one instead looked at the musical influences–jazz and blues–that shaped the distinctive Joplin sound. Unlike “Love, Janis,” this was a solo role that lets the Joplin character tell and reveal her own story through stage patter and song, Davies said.
Her turn in “A Night With Janis Joplin” earned Davies the Tony nomination; she said the first word out of her mouth when she heard her name announced on television by actress Lucy Liu was an astonished “What?!?” Things took off from there, Davies added, saying that almost immediately she was swept up in publicity appearances, interviews and photo shoots, including one on the highest floor of the Empire State Building (which no doubt symbolized her arrival at the top of the town).
There “was nothing like it,” she commented, for she recognized that there “are so many talented people” involved in “hundreds of shows” each year on Broadway. To be “singled out” was a sign that she had “earned it because of talent,” she said.
The recognition of her talent also makes Davies a player in the business. Broadway, she acknowledged, is “not out of my scope.” She also said that “people have presented possible projects, [but ] things have gotten in the way.” Davies went on extended tour with “A Night With Janis Joplin” for one thing, and she has her own music that she wants to develop.
The performance at the Akron Civic Theatre is giving her a chance to pursue that side of her career. With her band, the Mary Bridget Davies Group, she recently previewed a couple of songs in Indiana. The tunes went over well, she said. She will bring still more original songs to Akron, using the performance as a way to “see how it is all going.” For the audience, it will be a rare chance to hear a Broadway star sing original material before it is released in an album.
Davies said her new album has no name yet. Her first was self-titled (“Mary Bridget Davies”), while the second got its title from a hit song of hers called “Wanna Feel Somethin’.” This time, she already has three songs that could easily be the title, so she might have to look for some “outside title” when the time comes.
Davies can certainly sing in Joplin’s style. When talking about her own voice, however, Davies noted that her “instrument” is cleaner and clearer than Joplin’s husky voice. Davies described her own style as more “modern,” in the “soul rock” vein. However, Davies said that when she sings, she just feels and lets go, like Janis Joplin herself. She likes to get lost in the music and let the experience of singing reveal emotionally to the audience “all that is going on” in the song.
Mary Bridget Davies will perform at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19 at The Club @ The Civic on the main stage of the Akron Civic Theatre. Tickets are $25.