Interview: Collette Cooper on Tomorrow May Be My Last, “Janis Joplin was a pioneer for women in music”

Set against the backdrop of a Woodstock-vibe music festival in the height of the Summer of Love and backstage in her dressing room, Tomorrow May Be My Last marks a key moment in the career of Janis Joplin, and her all-too-brief existence.
Headed by singer-songwriter and actor Collette Cooper, the production was nominated for four Off West End Awards, including Best Musical Production and Best Leading Actor, and winner of the London Pub Theatre Standing Ovation Award for Best Solo Show written by Performer, this astounding production features all of Joplin’s greatest hits – alongside original material.
It has now arrived at Old Red Lion Theatre for a three-month residency. I caught up with Cooper to hear about how it feels to be back with the show, why it’s personal and what it was like to receive such acclaim for the show.

Q&A with Collette Cooper

Hi Collette, thanks for talking with us about Tomorrow May Be My Last. How does it feel to be back with the show and taking up residency in the Old Red Lion Theatre?

Love it! I love the Old Red Lion Theatre, it’s a beautiful, intimate setting where you can really connect with the audience and our artistic directors Helen and Damien Devine are so supportive.

What can you tell us about the play and its inspiration?

We live in turbulent times and the more I learnt about Janis’ story and the wider culture around her, the more I discovered how turbulent the late 60s were too. As we developed the show, we could see so many parallels between her world then and ours today.

For one, race relations are bad, particularly in America today, and they were so back then too. One of the reasons Janis was bullied was because she couldn’t stand growing up under segregation in the south in the 50s and early 60s. There were many race riots across American in the 60s and a lot of police brutality. When we first developed the story in 2020 it was around the time when George Floyd was killed by police resurfacing the Black Live Matter protests. It was very similar to what was happening in the 60s. There was a lot of Left v Right political divide back then as there is now. And of course, with Covid I was surprised to learn that there was a major flu epidemic in 1968 that killed a million people. I couldn’t believe how many similarities there were. So people seeing our show today will relate to the themes in our play set in the late 60s.

Collette Cooper in Tomorrow May Be My Last. Photo: Robin Pope

And of course, Janis was a pioneer for women in music – particularly in rock. At that time women were expected to be prim and proper, like the girl groups and artists like Dusty Springfield. Janis’s music rebelled against that stereotype. She didn’t wear make-up or have nice hair. She was one of the guys. So she forged a path for women in rock music to be themselves. The music industry is better for women today than it was then, but not as good as it should be.

On a more personal note, Janis’ struggles with self-worth and bullying, might resonate with young women who come to see the show, as well as the LBGTQ+ community since Janis was bisexual.

Was it daunting to add original music alongside Joplin’s hits?

Aw good question. I never thought of it like that. The song is written very much in Janis’s style and the song is actually about her, so we feel it fits perfectly.

The play was nominated for four Off West End Awards and won the London Pub Theatre Standing Ovation Award for Best Solo Show written by Performer – how did that feel?

It felt great! It’s wonderful to be acknowledged and supported for the hard work. We felt really honoured.

Finally, how would you describe Tomorrow May Be My Last to someone considering buying a ticket for the show?

A really, fun night. An emotional rollercoaster. Plus, we have an original song in the show (The title track which is officially released on the 3rd March) written by myself and Mike Hanson the producer and musical director. Audiences can enjoy a complimentary Southern Comfort Janis Joplin Cocktail as well as little miniatures throughout the show. I can promise the audience will be dancing and singing along!

Tomorrow May Be My Last is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until Saturday 6th May.