BWW Review: ANDY MIENTUS SINGS JONI MITCHELL'S LADIES OF THE CANYON Chills and Thrills at 54 Below
Andy Mientus stepped into the spotlight to address the audience. He was not on the stage, he was in the dining room, just this side of the kitchen door; and he was asking the audience if they could hear him without the microphone, because things were going to be different on this night at 54 Below. On this night, they were going to be a little quiet, a little chill, and if things went wrong "we're not going to pretend they didn't go wrong!" It was a most refreshing and human way to begin the show "Andy Mientus Sings Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon."
And what a refreshing and human idea it is! Nobody just turns on a cd and lets it play anymore. We don't get the full arc of the story the singer is wishing to present. Many, though, remember a day when tracks were not programmable, and what it was like to turn on the record Tapestry and listen to it from start to finish. Or Carly Simon's Another Passenger. Or The Carpenters Now and Then. With each record album she put out, Joni Mitchell carefully constructed a listener's journey, and the journey has been broken by playlists and itune purchases that allow a person to select only one song at a time. Mr. Mientus brought the Ladies of the Canyon listening experience to his 54 Below audience, and then enhanced it by sharing with them his thoughts and feelings about the music, the message and the Maestro who created both, Ms. Mitchell. It is an eloquent concept and execution, creating an evening that was, yes, quiet and chill, but also thrilling and fulfilling.
Kicking his shoes off before hitting the stage, Mientus was dressed like a person living in 1970s California, a hippie at best, possibly even a guru of good vibrations, as he entranced the audience with his quiet and chill, making the impossible a reality: they were quiet along with him. This writer is inside the walls of 54 Below at least three nights a week and never is the room quiet. People who populate nightclubs continue to talk and read their phones during the performance, to the dismay of those who are there to watch and listen, but Mr. Mientus is like The Pied Piper of music because as he sat singing "Morning Morgantown," "Rainy Night House," or "Conversation" nobody spoke, everyone paid attention, barely moving , all hypnotized by the pleasing appearance and seductive voice of Andy Mientus. This is the voice of a star - maybe a pop star, maybe folk, but this is a voice that needs to be recorded and sent out into the world for the masses to enjoy. The voice of Andy Mientus is how he seems he is a person: solid, sweet, dependable, effortless, and absolutely free of pretension and fancy. Whatever he sang during the evening, it was a revelation, with beautiful, clear tones ringing into the air like a churchyard bell on a sunny autumn morning, causing a sensation as though one were hearing these famous songs for the first time.
For over an hour, Mr. Mientus sang through Ladies of The Canyon from start to finish, fully committing to each story as the actor that he is, as well as the singer that he is, calling on some ladies of his own to help him along - after all The Ladies of The Canyon, as he said, needs some ladies. The true gentleman that he is, Mientus made sure to give all of his Ladies guest billing on the 54 Below website so that fans of Treshelle Edmond, Kathryn Gallagher, Nikki M. James, Hailey Kilgore, Lexie Lowell, Krista Pioppi and Jennifer Reed would know that they could be seen performing in the city, something all fans of artists appreciate, and the inclusion of these wonderful women brought a bright and unique, a happy and communal air to an evening designed to make everyone feel at home, relaxed, comfortable and hopeful. And speaking of hope...
Particularly effective during the evening was the inclusion of a portion of Greta Thunberg's now famous speech, just before the number "Big Yellow Taxi" - it was a beautiful and brilliant way to show how things in the world may change, but some of them don't change as fast as they should. All artists wish for their work to remain relevant, timeless, meaningful. In the case of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" the work is more relevant than ever and Mientus and company (beautifully lead by MD Benjamin Rauhala) prove just that.
Andy Mientus is special, that much is clear. He created his unique quiet and chill evening, brought his incomparable vocal abilities to center mic, and shared with an adoring crowd a personality perfectly matched to the artwork he was showcasing. Joni Mitchell would be so pleased to know that a peace-loving, tree-hugging, hemp-wearing, shoeless Joe is using his talent and platform to share her music and message at a time when both are so terribly needed.
Just like Andy Mientus.
Follow Andy Mientus on Twitter and Instagram @andymientus
Photos by Stephen Mosher