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Wednesday, 02 November 2016 15:03

Grand Theatre London’s Joni Mitchell tribute rock and rolls the Forest City

Written by  Dennis Kucherawy
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Help me!  I think I’m falling

in love again!  Mitchell tribute

rock and rolls the Forest City

“… Compelling… a dramatically focused and musically satisfying journey of love.” – London Free Press

By Dennis Kucherawy

“Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold, English wife how to feel.”

- Emma Thompson to her philandering husband in the film, “Love, Actually”

The London, On. premiere of “Joni Mitchell: River,” (JMR) now playing until this Saturday, Nov. 5th, is leaving Grand Theatre audiences feeling “unfettered and alive.”

 

Beautiful and moving

Described by incoming artistic director Dennis Garnhum as a theatrical concert, it is beautiful and moving, a celebration of and salute to one of Canada’s greatest living singer/songwriters.  It features the dynamic Louise Pitre as a member of a talented trio of vocalists accompanied by a quartet of musicians –Emm Gryner, a former backup singer for David Bowie, and Soulpepper vet Brendan Wall.  Among his credits are the Canadian production of the National Theatre’s international hit “War Horse.” The musicians consist of Music Director Greg Lowe (lead guitar), Steve Clark (acoustic and electric bass), Stefan Szczesniak (drums) and Antonio (Tony) De Luca (keyboard/soprano and alto saxophone.)

Unique “open” guitar tuning techniques

Joni Mitchell derives her distinctive sound through her “open” guitar tuning techniques that she used on many acoustic guitars, each tuned specifically for various songs. So for JMR, Lowe “auditioned” guitars from throughout the London region and chose 18 that the owners were generous enough to loan to him and the production.  Pictures of them are listed in the program.  Among them are such makes as Beneteau, Ayers ACM, Hohner, HG 230 and Giannini.

Joni Mitchell’s songs could have been written yesterday

The performers bring Mitchell’s artistry to vivid life in 29 songs, reminding everyone of her exciting melodies and evocative, poetic lyrics.  They could have been written yesterday.  Moreover, hearing these creative compositions together reminds us of her stunning range and just how great a pioneer she is, mixing folk together with rock ‘n’ roll.

Allen MacInnis, now artistic director of Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre, directed the world premiere of JMR in 2001 at Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange (PTE) when he was artistic director there.  The show has played Vancouver, Calgary and Antigonish, Nova Scotia since and now, London. In his program notes, he says he chose songs to “paint the arc of a love affair…

Songs paint the arc of a love affair

“Joni has written many insightful and intimate songs that express the various stages of finding, navigating, and losing love,” he explained.  “Many fans have commented on her uncanny ability to frame and phrase the crazy things we say, do, think, and feel when we’re in love relationships.”

MacInnis contrasts the love theme with songs of hers regarding the “state of our world and human development,’ ranging from sexual conflict and capitalism to war.  “After all,” he observes, “even when we are in the throes of a love affair, the world continues around us.”

Mitchell is also renowned as a painter, so the show’s structure of eight “chapters” in two acts bring to mind a painter’s palette of songs whose lyrics convey the colors of an emotional spectrum.  Each chapter’s title represents a theme and is derived from one of Mitchell’s titles.  For example, Chapter One is “I think I’m falling in one … again,” from her song “Help Me.”  It includes such well-known songs of hers as “Chelsea Morning,” sung by Brendan Wall and “Carey” sung by Emm Gryner. The eighth chapter’s title is “It’s Life’s Illusions I Recall,” taken, of course, from Mitchell’s best known, and most “covered,” 1967 song “Both Sides Now,” the show’s finale.

“River” – one of the most bittersweet Christmas songs ever written

Emm Gryner’s closes the first act with her poignant rendition of “River,” among the most bittersweet Christmas songs ever written.  Introduced by a fragment of “Jingle Bells” played by the band, Gryner describes the breakup of a romance, pouring her heart into the lyrics “I wish I had a river I could skate away on,” a river so long “she would teach my fleet to fly.”

It’s a rare ballad, not only because it’s arguably one of the only popular songs to include “skates” in the lyrics and to ponder her life as a Canadian living in California.  Gryner, like Wall and Pitre, sings with clarity and lets the beautiful lyrics speak for themselves. Indeed, “River” is a classic that, behind “Both Sides Now,” is the most re-recorded of Mitchell’s 432 recordings by pop, folk and jazz musicians on their Christmas CDs.

Louise Pitre’s uniquely intense, and moving, interpretation of “A Case of You”

The same is true of Louise Pitre’s uniquely intense, and moving, interpretation of “A Case of You.”  She acts as well as sings it.  Another bittersweet lament, it appeared on Mitchell’s 1971 album “Blue,” with her playing Appalachian dulcimer and James Taylor on acoustic guitar.  As in “River,” she refers to her homeland: “On the back of a cartoon coaster / In the blue of a TV screen light / I drew a map of Canada.  Oh, Canada / With your face sketched on it twice.”

Another highlight is in Chapter Four, titled “The Grind is So Ungrateful” and Wall’s performance of the upbeat, jazz/rock “Free Man in Paris,” in which the singer luxuriates how “unfettered and alive” he/she feels.  One of Mitchell’s most popular songs, Mitchell wrote and recorded it on her 1974 album “Court and Spark” and it appears on her live album “Shadows and Light.”  It was inspired by a trip she made to the City of Light in the early 1970s with her close friend, music agent/promoter David Geffen and rocker Robbie Robertson with his wife Dominique.

“Joni Mitchell: River” introduces us to lesser known Mitchell work.  I only wish the concert did not end on such a mellow note with “Both Sides Now.”  It’s lovely, but the show could really use an upbeat ending, maybe a “mega-mix” medley, perhaps a hard, guitar-driving reprise of “Chelsea Morning” seguing into two songs not in the show: “Raised on Robbery,” (set in Huntsville’s Empire Hotel) and “In France They Kiss on Main Street,” as Mitchell writes, “Amour, mama, not cheap display!”

I’m sure the audience would be up on its feet dancing.

As the song says, “We’d be rolling, rolling, rock ‘n’ rolling!”

Information:

For tickets and information for performance dates and times, please visit grandtheatre.com or phone 519-672-8800.

Visit Song & Script for our comprehensive selection of Joni Mitchell songbooks and recordings.

By Dennis Kucherawy

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 15:11
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