Jumpin' Janis

Article excerpt

Out singer Cathy Richardson talks about bringing Janis Joplin back to life in Love, Janis

Cathy Richardson, a 30-something Chicago native who stars in the off-Broadway musical Love, Janis, reveals that there is an unexpected irony to playing one of the wildest women in the history of rock and roll. "I have to live like a nun to do it," she says, laughing. "I can't go out late or be in smoky bars because I would totally lose my voice."

As it is, singing Janis Joplin's greatest hits in her signature raspy howl is so taxing, Richardson shares the eight-shows-a-week role with Andra Mitrovich. Yet another performer, Catherine Curtin, does the speaking part of Joplin (Yes. it takes three women to do Janis justice!) in the unconventionally structured show, but it's hard to imagine anyone being more dedicated to the role than Richardson. Last year, she and her girlfriend of eight years, Sheri Scaro, even made a pilgrimage to the places Joplin lived, including her hometown of Port Arthur, Tex., which she describes as "a ghost town with a sad little Janis Joplin museum and one old lady running it. No wonder Janis had to get out--eventually, everyone did."

Richardson, who has been playing Chicago bars with her popular namesake band for almost a decade, first was cast as Joplin in the Chicago production of Love, Janis in 1999. Before that, she says, she was a fan of Joplin's music but didn't know much about her life. As she I delved into the role, she found she identified deeply with Joplin's feelings of being an adolescent outcast.

"When I look back on my teenage years, when I was drunken and suicidal, I realize now that I was struggling with my sexuality," says Richardson. "But not only did I have my music [like Joplin], I got to go to rehab, which was an option Janis never had. …