Review: BOTH SIDES NOW: JONI MITCHELL AND LEONARD COHEN at Signature Theatre

The transcendent and poetic music and lyrics of legendary and influential musicians Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen are showcased by two terriffic artists.

By: Dec. 11, 2023
Review: BOTH SIDES NOW: JONI MITCHELL AND LEONARD COHEN at Signature Theatre

The transcendent and poetic music and lyrics of legendary and influential musicians Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen are showcased with sensitivity and professional panache by two terrific artists ----Danielle Wertz and Robbie Schaefer –in Signature Theatre’s Both Sides Now: Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.  It was indeed a very intimate, sophisticated, and remarkably enlightening evening that encompassed the earlier songs and milieu of Mitchell and Cohen.

The songs that were chosen touched the heart and mind and were a gift to the audience members who have traveled the musical years with these artists.  It was especially rewarding that the songs were interpreted by Ms. Wertz and Mr. Schaefer as they added such beautiful and intricate musical arrangements to the songs and they each possessed such resonant and textured vocal instruments.

I highly recommend this cabaret of musical enjoyment because even though it is of specialized interest for fans of Mitchell and Cohen, it is also a good overview for the public who are not as familiar with these now legendary artists.

A deft intertwining of narratives about Mitchell and Cohen’s lives with commentary such as Ms. Wertz reminiscing on her affection for Duke Ellington and Mr. Schaefer talking about his summer days at the pool made for intriguing personal thoughts. The highly relevant comments about the recent and ongoing war in Gaza were heartbreaking to hear as Ms. Wertz and Mr. Schaefer lit a candle to sanctify the darkness.

Mitchell’s “A Case of You” was sensitively delivered with fervent passion by Ms. Wertz. This song of intense love was a highlight of the evening. Ms. Wertz has a voice of breathtaking control and beauty.

“Rainy Night House” was utterly poetic and drenched with an immediacy of feeling as Ms. Wertz sang “I fell into a dream ------” with such delicacy and feeling. The mood was decidedly dreamy and captivating.

“Big Yellow Taxi” can often be unduly bouncy and bordering on the innocuous if not interpreted well but here it was presented with a quieter sense of the meaning underneath the somewhat upbeat tune.  Mr. Schaefer’s marvelous guitar and Ms. Wertz’s marvelous piano playing added depth and perspective to this beloved song. The scat singing of Ms. Wertz at the closing of the song added so much dimension to the piece.

“Both Sides Now” has been interpreted so many times and has become an iconic standard. I was again amazed that Ms. Wertz and Mr. Schaefer’s fascinating arrangement and interpretation made this often-performed song seem newly minted. The dualities inherent in life’s journey and the enigma of time’s transience were well-conveyed.

“All I Want” by Mitchell was effectively performed as a duet and a feeling of joy and abandon was rendered with skill.

“Lover, Lover, Lover” by Leonard Cohen was performed with impassioned urgency and beckoning by Mr. Schaefer on his guitar, as an extended musical arrangement accompanied the song. Themes of redemption and calling out to God were resonantly evoked throughout this intricate and compelling musical arrangement.

Leonard Cohen’s familiar standard “Hallelujah” was also given new life as a backlit star-studded sky shone down on the stage. Mr. Schaefer’s vocals were resonant and thrilling on this song of alternating praise, despair, and elation.

“The Fiddle and the Drum” was delivered a cappella with a purity of tone by Ms. Wertz and this very poetic song resounded with its plea for peace over war.

The marvelous classic “The Circle Game” was a well-received encore for the evening with Mr. Schaefer and Ms. Wertz asking the audience to join in the song. The audience sang along with newfound wisdom from the theme of time’s passage for, as Mitchell’s lyrics say: “We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came and go round and round and round, in the circle game.”

The Director of Cabarets Mark G. Meadows, Artistic Advisor Ethan Heard, Cabaret Associate Producer Angelica Miguel, Stage Management of Jess Hagy, Lighting Design of Chris Stull, and Audio Engineering of Jeffrey Stanley must all be cited ---for this was such a polished evening of cabaret.

There was a spiritual sense throughout much of the evening that was most welcome in these troubled times.  This was an evening of superior cabaret that will appeal to anyone who appreciates or wants to learn more about the music of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Both Sides Now: Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen is playing through December 23, 2023, at the Signature Theatre located at 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, Virginia, 22206. 




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