Dunstan Playhouse, Fri 15 Jun.
Joni Mitchell’s Blue album would rate very highly on many people’s list of all time favourite albums, so there was some trepidation as to how these sensitive introspective folk songs would translate to the cabaret stage.
What Queenie van de Zandt and her musical director Max Lambert have come up with is a piece of musical theatre that remains true to the songs but also meets the entertainment level sought by cabaret.
There are voice-overs from Joni’s mother, her daughter, and her first husband, giving their perspective of events. Queenie takes on the role of Joni on stage, telling her story and revealing aspects of her life. This was a little confusing at first – I was unsure whether Queenie or Joni had suffered polio as a child – but I quickly got used to it. These insights added context to the songs which, in some cases, led to them being heard in a new light. The childhood polio gave deeper meaning to the already powerful River. The relationship between Joni and her daughter is very much in the spotlight and is emotionally conveyed in Little Green.
We open with Queenie bathed in blue light sensitively performing the title song Blue. Straight into it! But tonight is not just an exploration of the Blue album, as the first part of the show’s title might suggest, but rather a roll call of many Joni favourites, as the second part of the title suggests. The hits are there – Big Yellow Taxi (twice!), The Circle Game, Both Sides Now, Woodstock (again the insight that the most memorable anthem about Woodstock was written by someone stuck in a hotel room unable to attend the event!). All of these are warmly received by an appreciative audience.
This show is well-paced, and there are several five star moments – the three piece band enjoying their romp through Woodstock, is followed by a gorgeous unaccompanied version of For Free. A Case Of You is another strong highlight. But there are some distracting moments also. At times a song is interrupted to present a piece of narrative just when you are really getting into the song. A rendition of Circle Game which begins with us being urged to take in the poetry builds to an audience singalong which is more cabaret than Joni Mitchell might condone. Likewise Big Yellow Taxi is reprised at the end as a crowd pleaser.
Judging from audience comments afterwards Queenie has hit the spot. I imagine many record collections are about to be reinvestigated.
Queenie van de Zandt – Blue: The Songs Of Joni Mitchell continues at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, from 9pm until Sat 16 Jun (SOLD OUT).