By Nick Pilgrim
Reviewed on Friday July 15, 2022
Chapel off Chapel, Prahran
This review may contain spoilers.
In my decade or so reviewing live entertainment, I have had the privilege to critique a solid range of cabaret. For the uninitiated, it is a theatrical avenue where songs and stories blend to take centre stage as one. (Although, by definition, there are no specific rules or set guidelines.)
From my own experience, several of the works I watched were musical journeys where one well-known artist paid tribute to another recognised name. The former, by using the latter’s songbook and background to pinpoint their own personal life and professional resume.
A key handful of examples I have seen include:
- Kaleidoscope (Starring Luigi Lucente and featuring songs of The Doors)
- Let Me Entertain You – The Robbie Williams Story (Starring Ross Chisari)
- Michael Griffiths – In Vogue (Featuring the songs of Madonna)
- My Judy Journals (Starring Rachel Juhasz and featuring the songs of Judy Garland)
- Peter Allen – Live In Inverted Commas (Starring Matthew Hadgraft)
- Piaf and Aznavour – Songs From The Pavement (Starring Hugo Chiarella)
- Songbird (Starring Alana Conway and featuring the songs of Eva Cassidy)
- We’ve Only Just Begun – The Music Of The Carpenters (Starring Angela Lumicisi)
The list goes on.
A beloved identity on the national entertainment scene, Queenie van de Zandt is an Australian actress, singer, comedian, recording artist, writer, and arts educator.
An award-winning talent of tremendous range and emotional depth, she has also wowed television audiences as the hilarious Jan van de Stool on Australia’s Got Talent, and shone in musicals from Thoroughly Modern Millie as Muzzy Van Hossmere, to Diana in Next To Normal.
Currently on tour around Australia, van de Zandt’s latest offering in person is Blue. This seventy-minute cabaret functions as both a loving tribute to the celebrated Canadian folk singer, Joni Mitchell, and van de Zandt’s unique strengths as a performer and storyteller.
Though I knew of her name, for the longest time I wasn’t aware of Mitchell’s significant contribution to the contemporary music landscape. That changed in 2003, thanks to the British film, Love Actually.
There is a pivotal moment in the movie where Emma Thompson’s character discovers that her husband (played by Alan Rickman) is having an affair. Earlier, she has seen him buying a necklace which Thompson assumes is a Christmas present for her.
Instead, the gift she receives is Joni Mitchell’s CD, which in his words, “is to continue her emotional education.”
Excusing herself from her husband and family, Thompson’s character stands motionless in her bedroom, silently weeping with Mitchell’s timeless song, ‘Both Sides Now’ as backing.
Blue encapsulates this kind of emotional grip, and more.
Learning the show’s title takes its name from Mitchell’s landmark album, that work recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2021. Released when she was only twenty-seven years old, Mitchell has truly lived.
Backed by Mark Jones (musical director and pianist), Sam Lemann (on electric guitar) and Jo Toh (on double bass), van de Zandt showcases many of the best. Bold yet sophisticated, the arrangements used for this production added to the smart and relaxed supper club sound. (Allowing audiences to watch up close and personal, makes Chapel off Chapel the perfect performance space for this kind of venture.)
Van de Zandt is at absolute ease in the spotlight; viewers will get a sense how important this album is to her. Tying the narrative together with some fascinating fast facts about Mitchell’s turbulent personal life yet stellar career, gave each song a sense of gravitas and place.
In order of performance, the colourful set included:
- ‘All I Want’;
- ‘My Old Man’;
- ‘Little Green’;
- ‘Big Yellow Cab’; and,
- ‘A Case Of You’.
Ending with ‘Both Sides Now’ was a special moment, matched by an encore of ‘Big Yellow Cab’ where van de Zandt encouraged the audience to sing along.
Blue is an experience which will cater to fans of Mitchell, Woodstock, and van de Zandt alike. Further, by bringing her personal spin on Mitchell’s work to the table, will surely add to van de Zandt’s impressive musical repertoire.
The tour continues next week in Sydney at the Hayes Theatre in Potts Point.