The Firehall Arts Centre
Circle Game: Reimagining the Music of Joni Mitchell

Dates and Venue January 12 – February 9, 2019, Tues at 7pm, Wed-Fri at 8pm, Sat at 3pm & 8pm, Sun at 3pm & Wed at 1pm PWYC |Firehall Arts Centre, 280 E. Cordova

Performers Benjamin Millman, Scott Perrie, Adriana Ravalli, Kimmy Choi, Samantha Bourque, & David Z. Cohen

Directors Andrew Cohen & Anna Kuman Musical Director Andrew Cohen Choreography Anna Kuman & Andrew Cohen Set Designer Carolyn Rapanos Lighting Designer Ian Schimpf Sound Designer Geoff Hollingshead Costume Designer Jessie Van Rijn Technical Director Ted Roberts Stage Manager Jillian Perry

Reviewer John Jane

Circle Game: Reimagining the Music of Joni Mitchell, whist placed in a theatrical setting, thanks largely to Carolyn Rapanos’ visually intriguing set and Ian Schimpf’s dramatic lighting, is much closer to being a tribute concert with added choreography, than a stage musical. It certainly lacks the mystical quality of Chelsea Hotel seen several times on this same stage over the last few years. Nor does it have the Broadway razzmatazz or the grand narrative element of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.

The show offers the audience an entertaining party theme with three men and three women having diverse musical gifts lending their talent to wide interpretation of a selection of Joni Mitchell's songs. Co-creators Andrew Cohen and Anna Kuman present a sincere homage to a Canadian legend, choosing roughly two dozen songs from her substantial catalogue – the more popular tunes reprised by different performers throughout the show. The “reimagining” of Mitchell's music is more accurately the re-arranging to suit the musical prowess of the performers. As a result some songs will be immediately recognizable, whilst the treatment given to less well-known songs will be difficult to identify as Joni Mitchell songs.

The show begins with the six member ensemble finding their place on stage while the audience listens to a recording of Joni Mitchell’s speaking voice (likely from a live concert). The performers join the recorded voice in a spirited interpretation of the show’s titular song “Circle Game.” It soon becomes obvious that whatever this group lacks in musicality, they easily make up for in exuberance with an enthusiastic offering that combines “Freeman in Paris” and “Both Sides Now.” More of Mitchell’s iconic songs like “Chelsea Morning” and “Big Yellow Taxi” follow in the early part of the show with Adriana Ravalli’s voice soaring above those of her cast mates.

The audience seemed to appreciate hearing those easily recognised songs, but ardent followers will surely find musical gems in the lesser known renderings. Such as the unique version of “A Case of You” sung by Adriana Ravalli and David Z. Cohen while romantically playing (the same) guitar together. Another listenable (and watchable) rendition is the piano duet of “Help Me” by multi-instrumentalist Kimmy Choi and Benjamin Millman. “Little Green” a song taken from Mitchell's Blue album is covered by the ensemble’s three women and “Cactus Tree“(she's too busy being free) closes out the first act.

A curious choice is “People’s Parties,” which is given a rather manic treatment. The inclusion of "The Fiddle and the Drum" from her 1969 album Clouds is ironic; the song's lyrics lament on the United States are "fighting us all" and has abandoned "the fiddle for the drum."

Solo performances are a little underwhelming, with the notable exception of Scott Perrie’s full length version of “Freeman in Paris.” But it’s when the entire cast come together that the show leaves the ground, as it does at the end with joyful renditions of “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Circle Game.”

If you’re open to offbeat covers of Joni Mitchell’s songs, there is no reason why you won’t enjoy this show. Just leave any high expectations at the door.

© 2019 John Jane