Written and directed by Stephen Stahl
Starrig Dee Dee Bridgewater
Little Shubert Theatre
Official Website

by Mark St. Germain
Directed by Juliane Boyd
Starring Debra Jo Rupp
Westside Theatre
Official Website

Written and Directed by Randy Johnson
Starring Mary Bridget Davies
Lyceum Theatre
Official Website

Reviewed by David Spencer

Director-writer Stephen Stahl’s Lady Day, which shows Billie Holliday rehearsing for a concert with her small, loyal combo and occasionally drifting off into a haze of biographical reminiscence, is a dull and familiar affair, perking some when star Dee Dee Bridgewater channels Billie to sing, but otherwise not making the case for why we should take interest in her history of abuse, descent into alcoholism and performer’s self-involvement. Even in terms of blocking, it’s kind of lazy, itself in an alcoholic haze.

                  By contrast, Becoming Dr. Ruth, by Mark St. Germain, is a far more rewarding stage bio. On the one hand, it certainly has its air of familiarity, with famous sex therapist Ruth Westheimer (the ever-engaging and uncannily accurate Debra Jo Rupp) “discovering” us in her apartment, telling someone on the phone she’ll call back, she has company, and in short order telling us the story of how she got from Nazi Germany as a Jewish child, to America and celebrity—by way of Israel. But St. Germain cleverly acknowledges the theatrical artifice, which therefore allows him a certain poetic use of the stage space; for example, at will, the panoramic New York City waterfront view outside Ruth’s window can become a projection screen, magnifying the framed pictures she is continually packing away for a move across town, in the wake of her husband’s recent death. And because Dr. Ruth isn’t a self-pitying character, continues toward her goals and looks within for strength wen times get tough—and finds it—she earns enough of our forbearance, through the unmotivated confessional, to go along for the ride, which is usually witty, funny often enough, always agreeable and sometimes even mildly touching. Appropriately invisible direction is by Julianne Boyd.

                  A Night With Janis Joplin doesn’t even try that hard for autobiography. Basically it’s the concert Janis would have given if she wanted to hit her highlights, conjure her influences (in person!), and wax philosophical about music in between numbers. It’s written ably and directed with a great deal of showmanship by Randy Johnson. Those who know the Joplin legacy will find it an exhilarating nostalgia-fest, especially with Mary Bridget Davies’ dead-on Joplin channeling to supply the energy. Those for whom the Joplin legacy is but a cultural sidebar may at least get a cleaner, clearer picture of what all the hoo-hah was about and why there’s even a legacy in the first place.

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