BWW Review: UNCOVERED: JONI MITCHELL & CAROLE KING Re-imagines the 21st Century's Biggest Singer-Songwriter Hits

BWW Review: UNCOVERED: JONI MITCHELL & CAROLE KING Re-imagines the 21st Century's Biggest Singer-Songwriter Hits

Jully Black. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

What happens when you put eight accomplished singers, two dynamic actresses, and a back-up band that steals the show more than once? You get UNCOVERED: Joni Mitchell & Carole King.

The 2018 edition of The Musical Stage Company's limited-run series, celebrating its twelfth year, explores the connections and differences between singer-songwriters Mitchell (Maev Beaty) and King (Linda Kash) as a cast of acclaimed performers take on their personas to deliver some of the most popular and beloved pieces from their songbooks. With music direction, vocal arrangements, and orchestrations by Reza Jacobs and dramaturgy by Mitchell Marcus, the company brings together all the necessary elements to create an evening of fresh takes on classic songs.

The show is kickstarted by Ma-Anne Dionisio's rendition of King's "Pleasant Valley Sunday" which blasts a wall of sound through Koerner Hall, followed closely by Sara Farb's "A Case of You," which is somehow stripped down even more than the original. The composition of Farb's piece gives her plenty of room to move between strong and soft vocal moments, and she works the bare arrangement to her advantage in terms of presence - in fact, Farb is the most consistently 'in character' throughout the evening, and pays close attention to the physical aspects of her delivery on top of her musical delivery.

BWW Review: UNCOVERED: JONI MITCHELL & CAROLE KING Re-imagines the 21st Century's Biggest Singer-Songwriter Hits
Ma-Anne Dionisio. Aimee Bessada. Jully Black. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

In her duet with Kelly Holiff, the two riff off one another, well...beautifully. Their version of King's "Beautiful" brings a level of excitement to the show at the mid-Act I point, with subtle delivery and musical tenacity on Farb's end balancing out with Holiff's constant motion and powerhouse vocals.

Another Act I highlight comes from international recording artist and songwriter Jully Black, whose adaptation of King's "It's Too Late" lets her show off her range. The choice to substitute the drum kit for a typewriter was a wise one and handled wonderfully by percussionist Jamie Drake. Black is only upstaged by herself in Act II, with a commanding medley of King's "I Feel The Earth Move," "Cryin' In The Rain," and "One Fine Day." Black is accompanied by Dionisio and Aimee Bessada for the performance, and the combination of songs allow each singer the time they need to really show off their abilities.

Dionisio's Act II performance of Mitchell's "River," with its timely Christmas-carol undertones, displays the lush quality in both her voice and orchestrations, and while it doesn't stray too far from the original composition, it gives Dionisio a platform to deliver an inspiring take on an often-overplayed song.

Bessada leads two performances within the show and dumps classic rockstar energy into both. Her Act I "Don't Bring Me Down" is backed by the full band, with Bessada opting to take lead guitar. She knows how to work a stage while delivering a demanding piece, which is proven again during her later take on "Woodstock," although she swaps her guitar for a mandolin to add an extra layer to the cover.

BWW Review: UNCOVERED: JONI MITCHELL & CAROLE KING Re-imagines the 21st Century's Biggest Singer-Songwriter Hits
Jackie Richardson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Perhaps the most recognized performer of the night, Jackie Richardson adopts two fairly different songs - Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and King's "Up On The Roof." Her deep, rich voice lends itself beautifully to both pieces, and her star-presence doesn't go unnoticed by the audience or her colleagues on-stage. Despite the demand of each song, Richardson works her way through each with ease while covering the expanse of the stage, from front-to-back and end-to-end.

Additional highlights of the evening were Hailey Gillis's Mitchell moments, as her tone is almost perfectly suited to the singer-songwriter - made evident in both her opening the show as Mitchell, and her delivery of "Conversation." Michelle Bouey's version of King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" has her backing herself on the cello, and despite a few moments where she seems a bit shaky, she pulls through for a breathtaking final chorus and finale. Finally, primary violinist and accordionist Anna Atkinson takes centre stage with her fellow bandmates, Justin Gray, Drake, and Reza, to play a stylized, simplistic version of Mitchell's "Morning Morningtown," in which her voice shines clear and the whole band has a chance to step away from their instruments in favour of basic equipment.

BWW Review: UNCOVERED: JONI MITCHELL & CAROLE KING Re-imagines the 21st Century's Biggest Singer-Songwriter Hits
Michelle Bouey. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

UNCOVERED is a unique concept that relies heavily on its actors to bring its title characters to life, an undertaking handled extremely well by Beaty and Kash. As King, Kash takes on a more subtle, professional Carole with brief insights into her personal life, while keeping subject matter more in line with her work and its connection to her life. Her tone is fantastic, and on the few occasions where she heads towards joke territory are a real treat.

Opposing Kash is Beatty as the self-described freak Mitchell. Beatty leans heavily on self-deprecation and era-based humour to catch the audience's attention, and it consistently works - she earns laughs every time she's on stage with her casual dialogue and near-perfect delivery. In the rare moments where Mitchell reveals more personal information, Beatty manages to deliver her lines with real weight, which is also seen in her Act II closing scene, where the two legends interact for the first time. Both play off one another so nicely that it's a shame there isn't more dialogue between the two.

BWW Review: UNCOVERED: JONI MITCHELL & CAROLE KING Re-imagines the 21st Century's Biggest Singer-Songwriter Hits
The cast of UnCovered 2018. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

And, as with all shows, there is the finale - in the case of UNCOVERED: Joni Mitchell & Carole King, it's a full-cast performance of Mitchell's hit "Big Yellow Taxi." Reza clearly understands each vocalists' strengths well enough to masterfully weave them in and around each other, resulting in the kind of showstopper that the cast seems to enjoy as much as the audience.

With the collection of talent involved in this show, it'd be easy to identify overshadowing or a too-high focus on certain performers, but with the balanced distribution of songs and singers in UNCOVERED, there seems to be a constant harmony throughout the 120-minute event. It's one of those instances where the cast seems to have as much fun - if not more - than the audience, thanks in part to the casual undertones and fantastic decisions on song designations.


UNCOVERED: Joni Mitchell & Carole King is on stage November 13 to 15 at Koerner Hall, 273 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON; November 16 at the Living Arts Centre, 4141 Living Arts Dr, Mississauga, ON; and November 21 at the George Weston Recital Hall, 5040 Yonge St, North York, ON.

For more information or to buy tickets (if available), visit http://musicalstagecompany.com/production/uncovered2018/

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