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Review: BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell (Queen van de Zandt)

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Review: BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell (Queen van de Zandt)

by Jo Litson on August 4, 2017 (August 4, 2017) filed under Musical Theatre & Cabaret | Comment Now
★★★★☆ A beguiling night of melancholic songs, poetic storytelling and haunting vocals.

Hayes Theatre Co, Sydney

August 3, 2017

The smell of joss fills the Hayes Theatre Co. The stage is strewn with brightly coloured rugs, lots of candles and a table with a teapot, while a large self-portrait of Joni Mitchell stands on an easel. Painted for her Love Has Many Faces album cover, the mouth is utterly distinctive but her hat is pulled down to cover her eyes.

It makes for the perfect intimate setting for Queenie van de Zandt’s new cabaret show BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell. Written by van de Zandt and her musical director Max Lambert, the show takes us through the landmark events in Mitchell’s life and, with its clever selection of songs, illustrates just how much she drew on her own life in her poetic, folksy songs. As Mitchell once said: “I paint my joy and sing my sorrow”.

Queenie van de Zandt in BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell

The story of her contracting polio at age nine, being told she would never walk again and spending a year in hospital is intercut with the song River, for example, with its lyrics “I would teach my feet to fly, I wish I had a river I could skate away on”.

Speaking in the first person as Mitchell (though not attempting any kind of overt impersonation), van de Zandt tells of losing her virginity and getting pregnant in the one night as a 20-year old art student, of her first marriage and other relationships, of having to give up her baby for adoption and meeting her daughter years later.

Van de Zandt who became the mother of a baby daughter herself in January brings incredible empathy and emotion to the song Little Green written about her child.

The show opens with Blue then segues into The Tea Leaf Prophecy and onto numbers including Twisted, Woodstock (she wasn’t actually there but wrote one of the definitive songs about the festival) and Big Yellow Taxi, all beautifully sung with a lovely subtle restraint. Best of all are deeply felt, exquisitely performed renditions of Case of You and Both Sides Now.

Threaded through the show are voice-overs from interviews with people in Mitchell’s life including her mother and daughter.

Lambert provides wonderfully sensitive accompaniment on the piano, heading a three-piece band (Hugh Fraser on bass and Gary Vickery on guitars). In another stand-out moment van de Zandt sings For Free acapella.

Van de Zandt and Lambert have crafted a gently melancholic, poetic show that can speak to anyone regardless of whether you know the material, but fans of Mitchell’s music will find it particularly appealing.


BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell plays at the Hayes Theatre Co until August 6

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