created by Allen
Joni Mitchell is a genius, a Canadian treasure, a brilliant singer-songwriter
and one of the seminal popular artists of the last four decades.
Lorretta Bailey, Rebecca Shoichet and John Mann perform 32 of her
songs beautifully for the most part, backed by a quality four-piece
band on the Playhouse stage. If you're a Joni fan, hearing her songs,
especially her earlier classics, so lovingly reproduced in this tribute
format--songs we'll never hear her sing live that way again with
her now-ravaged voice--you can't help but be grateful and at times
absolutely thrilled. But there's a lot about this show that I still
Let's be clear: this is a concert. There's no dialogue linking or
commenting on the songs, no dramatic interaction among the singers,
nothing to contextualize or reinterpret the lyrics. The singers (dressed
in shockingly ugly pseudo-70s outfits by Christine Reimer) move around
Yvan Morissette's undistinguished multi-level set, nicely lit by
Ereca Hassell, and just sing what are for the most part reproductions
of the original arrangements. Nondescript projections sometimes appear
on the back wall in a half-hearted attempt to give the songs more
dramatic resonance and the concert itself a more theatrical feel.
The program groups the songs by themes: Falling in Love, War, Big
Business, etc. But nothing on the stage indicates these connections,
and only rarely--for example, when the wife-battering “Not
to Blame” is followed directly by “The Magdalene Laundries”--does
the order of the songs have an obvious impact. Under Allen MacInnis’ direction
one song segues directly into the next without a break, like an extended
medley, leaving no time for its meaning to sink in and no cue as
to whether the audience should applaud or not. Every so often contemporary
history provides its own context. In Rebecca Soichet’s gorgeous
a capella version of the antiwar “Fiddle and the Drum,” addressed
to “America my friend,“ the line “we have all come
to fear the beating of your drum” is chilling. But the songs
themselves provide these meanings, not anything in their presentation.
It’s hard to know in what sense exactly, as the credits say,
the show has been “created by” Allen MacInnis.
those songs, that music and these singers! Soichet was my favourite
with her Joni-like voice, crystalline in the upper
registers. Her rendition of “River” to close the
first act is breath-taking, but she’s equally strong on
other classics like “Carey,” “Dog Eat Dog” and “Coyote.” Spirit
of the West’s John Mann, with his very demonstrative style,
works a little too hard at the beginning. But he too has a really
fine voice and it was interesting to hear songs like “Chelsea
Morning” and “Free Man in Paris” sung by a
man. His a capella “Shadows and Light” was a highlight,
as were “Woodstock“ and “Cactus Tree.” He
should do an album of Joni covers. Lorretta Bailey, sometimes
frustratingly inaudible, more than redeems herself with a stunningly
Case of You,” followed by a moving rendition of the Dylanesque “Come
in from the Cold.” And the three harmonize beautifully,
especially on “Both Sides Now” in the finale.
The tight, veteran band is led by musical director Greg Lowe on
18 differently tuned guitars, and includes Thomas J.L. Colclough
keyboards and woodwinds, Rene Worst on bass and Graham Boyle on drums.
It’s a treat to hear them rock out on “Big Yellow Taxi,” but
that’s the only time in the show they’re really featured.
So I’m not sure how much I liked the production, or how it
fits into my conception of what a play is, or what it augurs for
the Playhouse’s new modern-only mandate. But I left the theatre
singing those songs and I’ll be listening to my Joni Mitchell
CD’s incessantly over the next few days. Maybe those are the
only recommendations that really matter.