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Joni Mitchell’s songs latest to get the Belfry treatment

PREVIEW What: I Think I’m Fallin’ — The Songs of Joni Mitchell Where: Belfry Theatre When: Opens tonight, continues to Dec. 4 Tickets: $20 to $53 (250-385-6815 or tickets.belfry.bc.

PREVIEW

What: I Think I’m Fallin’ — The Songs of Joni Mitchell

Where: Belfry Theatre

When: Opens tonight, continues to Dec. 4

Tickets: $20 to $53 (250-385-6815 or tickets.belfry.bc.ca)

 

 

Following the boffo success of last season’s Leonard Cohen revue, the Belfry Theatre has turned to another famous Canadian singer-songwriter.

I Think I’m Fallin’ — The Songs of Joni Mitchell follows a format similar to that of Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. There’s no dialogue, little in the way of plot. Once again the singer-actor-musicians will assume a “character,” albeit in an abstract way.

The central notion is that the songs are the sing … um, thing.

Conceived by director Michael Shamata and musical director Tobin Stokes, I Think I’m Fallin’ — The Songs of Joni Mitchell offers such classics as The River, Both Sides Now, Chelsea Morning and Big Yellow Taxi. There’s also lesser-known fare, such as Come in From the Cold and If I Had a Heart. Seventeen songs will be performed, spanning 1968 to 2007.

The show stars Jonathan Gould (who was also in the Leonard Cohen show), Evangelia Kambites, Linda Kidder, Anton Lipovetsky and pianist Brent Jarvis.

In the 1970s, Mitchell was the archetypal female singer-songwriter. She had the appropriately folkie look: high-cheekboned, willowy frame, long blond hair. And she more than had the talent to back it up.

Big Yellow Taxi (1970) was the breakthrough chartbuster. Hit after hit followed. Mitchell achieved a commercial apex with her 1974 Court and Spark album, which yielded such seminal songs as Raised on Robbery, Help Me and Free Man in Paris.

She impressed both critics and fans with the melodicism and sophistication of her melodies, the sensitivity and acuity of her lyrics. And Mitchell’s voice, often flipping up to an unorthodox falsetto, was instantly recognizable.

Stokes says his approach as musical director was collaborative. He met the cast long before rehearsals began, ascertaining their individual musical strengths, asking them what songs were personal favourites. While some songs, such as Big Yellow Taxi, will closely resemble the original recordings in performance, others are rearranged to give them freshness and interest.

“Nobody’s trying to be Joni Mitchell. We’re just using her words and her music as a starting point,” Stokes says.

“I think all the songs in this show will be recognizable. But I think the mark of a good song is whether you can strip away the production and the arrangement and still have a song. And then you can rebuild it your way.”

Working closely with Mitchell’s music, Shamata says he realized the beauty of the music sometimes belies the sadness and introspection within the lyrics. An example is Chelsea Morning. Despite its chirpy bounciness, there’s an underlying pathos in the words.

“Through the whole thing she’s saying: ‘Please stay, I’m afraid you’re going to leave.’ She says ‘Please stay’ about 10 times in that song,” Shamata says.

Revues built around the music of baby-boomer heroes tend to be sure bets at the box office. Shamata says that wasn’t the impetus for creating I Think I’m Fallin’ — The Songs of Joni Mitchell, however.

This season is intended to be a tribute to female artists; it includes plays by Kate Henning and Joan MacLeod, and theatrical adaptations of Alice Munro stories. A Joni Mitchell revue fits with that theme.

As well, when assembling the 2016-17 season, Shamata says he realized it needed such a show to continue the Belfry’s tradition of staging such musical productions as Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen and Puttin’ on the Ritz.

“That’s how it happened. It would be great if this show sells and makes us money. But the thought wasn’t we have to get something in there that has to make us money,” he says.

achamberlain@timescolonist.com