BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell
BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell, Queenie van de Zandt, Melbourne Cabaret Festival 2017 – The Loft, Chapel off Chapel 27 June-1 July 2017. Photography by Greg Harm (in Brisbane)
“I paint my joy and sing my sorrow...” – Joni Mitchell: a story-teller, painter and artist. Queenie van de Zandt – a story-teller and chanteuse with a voice that matches the quintessential Joni in this brilliantly put together cabaret on the musical life of one of the most revered singer-songwriters of all time; and it is breathtaking.
I like shows where you learn more about a favourite artist than you thought you knew, especially when it’s like BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell. Pianist Max Lambert and van de Zandt, creators of the show, have created a snap shot of Joni Mitchell’s life. We learn about her mother, her first love, the birth of her child, her first marriage and the heartbreak of not being able to care for her baby – poverty. How she, as a painter, never saw herself as a singer – it was just something she did to make a living.
And make a living she did, becoming synonymous with Woodstock (although she wasn’t there) her songs resonating and reverberating for a generation and beyond. Van de Zandt connects Mitchell’s life and work effortlessly and at times heartbreakingly – “Little Green’, about her child. Van de Zandt knows how to connect with an audience and more than that, how to deal with one.
With a show about an icon of the music world there is always the temptation for an audience to burst into applause because they want you to know they know the number. But this show is so well constructed and performed, there seems to be something innate that tells you it would break the spell. Van de Zandt does that, she takes your breath away with her story telling and her voice – so pure it rattles your composure.
Mitchell, was once told by folk singer Chuck Mitchell with whom she was living and performing in Toronto, that it was false praise for her to be known as the poet in the family, because “how could she be, she is only 21”. Yet at that tender age, she had already experienced loss, heartache and sorrow which in turn shaped her. She had polio at the age of nine, there was the birth of a child that she gave up for adoption; as well as the normal, I’m-not-conforming attitude of youth.
For this show The Loft was strewn with rugs, lots of candles, incense and a pot of tea and an oversize close-up portrait of the star – mostly the famously prominent full mouth, the eyes in shadow… Your eyes are drawn to it like a moth to light.
Van de Zandt moves from stand mike to seated to “be” Joni, telling us her story interspersed with voice-over; like a fireside chat – comfortable. She pours a cup of tea as we hear more wonderful tales of the iconoclastic Mitchell, from young girl to woman.
Everything about the show is good. Musical director Vicki Jacobs is wonderful on the piano and leads the small band with precision: Jo To on bass and Gerard Assi on guitar/s, with one aching a cappella moment that is spell binding. Van de Zandt’s voice lends itself to the torch songs “A Case of You”, “Both Sides Now” and the title song, “Blue”.
If you’re a Joni Mitchell fan you won’t be disappointed and you will become a Queenie van de Zandt fan, it’s impossible not to be.
Brilliant. (And you get to sing…)