Musicals celebrate contributions of female singer-songwriters

NEW YORK – Mary Bridget Davies is part singer, part actress and part spirit conjurer.

The bubbly performer is uncanny at capturing the look and sound of the late Janis Joplin in a new Broadway show highlighting the iconic blues singer.

“I feel a responsibility to be as honest and authentic as possible,” said Davies, who has spent years singing Joplin songs in concert and on stage. “You can’t fake the funk. You can’t fake Janis.”

Davies and her “A Night With Janis Joplin,” which opened Thursday, are part of a new wave of musicals featuring female singer-songwriters.

“I kind of feel like people are beginning to feel the need for nurturing figures and the feminine side of life,” said Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Grammy- and Tony-winning actress who plays Billie Holiday in “Lady Day” at the Little Shubert Theatre.

Bridgewater channels the blues legend during a comeback attempt in the years before her 1959 death. The show features 25 Holiday standards, including “Good Morning Heartache,” “Strange Fruit,” “My Man” and “God Bless the Child.”

The new interest in female singers and songwriters may be a coincidence, but it comes as a refreshing change from all the testosterone in behind-the-music shows such as “Million Dollar Quartet,” “Jersey Boys” and Berry Gordy’s “Motown, the Musical.”

On tap is “Always … Patsy Cline,” which tells of the friendship between Cline and a devoted fan. The show, starring “American Idol” finalist Crystal Bowersox, will feature almost 30 classic songs from the Cline songbook. The music of Diane Warren, award-winning writer of hits such as “Unbreak My Heart” and “If I Could Turn Back Time,” is being adapted for the Broadway stage under the guidance of Dede Harris Productions.

Next month, Broadway sees the arrival of “Beautiful – the Carole King Musical,” which charts King’s life from age 16 to being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband, Gerry Goffin, and ends with the release of her groundbreaking solo album “Tapestry.”

Playwright Douglas McGrath set King’s music to the story of her relationship with her husband and fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

Tony-nominated Jessie Mueller stars in the show, which is in San Francisco through Oct. 20.

McGrath said it’s fun to listen to the audience do double takes upon hearing hit after hit, whispering to their seatmates in disbelief: “She wrote that, too?” That sentiment seems to be driving all the new shows about singer-songwriters: remind and educate a new generation.

“I feel it’s very important that people leave with a fuller sense of who this woman actually was,” Bridgewater said. “I am conscious of the fact that I’m part of a dying breed. So I really try to make the music more accessible to young people.”

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