Co-Star, Sabrina Elayne Carten Blows Audiences Away
Vital to the Arena Stage's production of "One Night with Janis Joplin," is New York native, actress and singer Sabrina Elayne Carten, who plays "The Blues Singer," a character that's actually a number of African-American singers who influenced the music of the late rock icon, Janis Joplin. Included in the roll call of Blues and soul singers who Carten recreates are Bessie Smith, Odetta, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin.
Ably matched with Mary Bridget Davies' vocal strength and talent, Carten adds the deep soulfulness to duets with the star of the play and holds her own on select pieces by the singers, and also the prelude to the finale, "I'm Gonna Rock My Way to Heaven." Carten's role is the vehicle to convey the strong African-American female presence in the story of Joplin's musical development.
"It's great working with Mary Bridget Davies. She is an amazing singer and she is a lot of fun. She is very, very talented, so it's great being involved in the show with her," Carten said. "Our voices are compatible because [both] our voices are very large and she has a really good command of her instrument. And I think we play off each other really well."
Carten was trained as an opera singer, beginning her career with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra as the Strawberry Woman in "Porgy and Bess," but, as she said, she was raised in the Baptist church.
"I always do gospel music and some jazz. And I do standards. Because I do a lot of music in church [none of the styles] were really that far away, but this is the first time I have done it full out like this on stage, and I am really enjoying it," she said.
A sometimes-executive assistant for the financial market in New York City, Carten joined the production of "One Night with Janis Joplin," last year when it premiered in Portland, Ore. She went on with the show to its dates in Cleveland earlier this year before it traveled to Washington, D.C.
As a member of the American Spiritual Ensemble out of Lexington, Ky., Carten joined forces with other opera singers to focus on the continuation of the Negro spiritual tradition.
The actress grew up listening to all kinds of music. "My parents listened to a lot of different things. My mother was an opera singer," she said, "so we listened to a lot of classical music in the house, but we also listened to a lot of Motown, The Sounds of Philadelphia; and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix."
Carten said that playing the different singers she portrays in the play wasn't difficult, having studied the iconic figures like Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin on YouTube.
"I spent a lot of time listening to their music so I could really understand their stylings, their interpretation of the pieces. It's not about doing imitations of Aretha, or Bessie or Odetta. It's more about complementing the styles, the way they sang phrases and general musical ideas. I just listened to as many recordings as I could."