A loving, insightful tribute to an all time great artist, Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell is a wonderful fit of material and performer, with Queenie van de Zandt pouring her heart and soul into the songs and storytelling.
The intimate space of Chapel off Chapel glows warmly and invitingly with flickering candles, the atmosphere also set with the gentle waft of slowly burning incense.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s much revered album, Blue, (with an extra thrown in because of COVID chaos) van de Zandt returns her 2017 show Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell to the stage.
Written by van de Zandt and Max Lambert, the show weaves compelling narrative moments in between songs that were inspired by these life experiences. This ingenious structure completely avoids the sort of tiresome tribute style that is simply a linear set of wikipedia entries.
Mitchell has lived an extraordinary life, and van de Zandt has not only unearthed the most fascinating aspects of that life but also tells the stories in a manner that is as breathless and incredulous as it is respectful and reverent. There is a strong and comforting sense that the audience has simply gathered to hear an impromptu set of reminiscences rather than a constructed program.
At this first performance at Chapel off Chapel, the spell was broken a couple of times with van de Zandt needing to correct technical aspects that possibly should have been ironed out before the show. Nonetheless, van de Zandt’s genuine warmth quickly has the audience back under her reverie again.
The season is blessed with musical director Mark Jones on piano, with van de Zandt’s storytelling enhanced by delicate improvised underscoring from Jones. The tight three-piece band also includes Sam Leman on guitars and Jo To on double bass.
Scaffolded with background insights into Mitchell’s life, the lyrics of the songs take on additional affecting resonance. Van de Zandt’s heartfelt renditions really allow the music and lyrics to be heard anew. A clear vocal highlight of the evening is “For Free,” which van de Zandt delivers a cappella and unamplified.
It becomes clear that Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell has found its true audience when everyone freely joins in a singalong encore of “Big Yellow Taxi.”
For lovers of Joni Mitchell, and fans of quality cabaret, Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell is a warm winter treat.
Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell plays at Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne until 16 July 2022. For tickets click here.
Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell plays at Hayes Theatre, Sydney 19-24 July 2022. For tickets, click here.
Photos: Scott Belzner (HOTA, 2019)