A superb tribute to an enlightened music icon of our times
BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell is returning to Sydney for one performance only after hugely successful, sell-out and award winning shows at the Queensland and Melbourne Cabaret Festivals, and Sydney's Hayes Theatre.
Starring Queenie van de Zandt, a much-admired Australian actress, singer, comedian, recording artist, writer and arts educator, the show is a celebration of Joni Mitchell's distinctive music, along with stories that influenced her songs. Supported by a music trio led by Max Lambert, Queenie connects with the audience from the moment she steps on stage and delivers a moving and memorable performance.
In this interview, Queenie talks about the upcoming performance of BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell and opens up about why this music is close to her heart.
Queenie, you've had a successful career as an actress, singer, comedian, recording artist, writer and arts educator. Live theatre and cabaret have featured prominently with you performing in acclaimed productions such as Hair, Cabaret, Les MisÚrables, Anything Goes and The Boy from Oz. Your performances in BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell have scored you 3 prestigious theatre awards, a Helpmann Award nomination for Best Cabaret Performer and the Sydney Theatre Award for Best Cabaret Production. What drew you to write and produce this show? I was late to motherhood - I had a baby at 47, after many years of IVF. I've always loved Joni Mitchell - and I'd always known the story of her having been forced to put her child up for adoption because of the circumstances and time in history in which she had her. I'd long wanted to write a show about her - but the time was never right. After having my daughter in 2017 - the story of Joni giving up her daughter came back to me and it hit me at a level that was so much deeper. The idea of giving up my child was unbearable. I was lucky enough to be able to take off a year to be at home with my daughter - and also very lucky that I got a baby that slept well - she often slept for 4 hours straight during the day and slept through the night from about 6 weeks old. And so suddenly I had the brain space and the time to write this show. The stars aligned.
In a 1973 article published by the New York Times, "Songs for the New Woman", the writer explores music, the women's movement and influential female artists of the time. Joni Mitchell was viewed to be the most accomplished of the three pioneering female artists featured in the article; her music, voice and lyric "merg[ing] to create an intensely moving experience". What do you think makes Joni Mitchell stand apart from some of her peers? Joni never had any ambition to be a singer/songwriter. She began singing and writing songs as a way of making money so she could survive art school and then later to get enough money to get her daughter out of foster care. Her true love is painting - she is an equally accomplished visual artist. She has said she is "a painter, derailed by circumstance". And I think that lack of attachment to her career has allowed her to not buy into the 'music industry' and get caught up in all the bullshit. She just stayed true to herself and her stories and her art. Because she wasn't attached - she stood up to all those 'white men in suits' in the music industry trying to tell her who she should be or look like, or what she should write and she just forged her own path.
At a time when women "folksingers" were known for their strong, often cutting, statements of disapproval of society's perception of women, Joni Mitchell was comfortable with a more gentle image. What do you feel contributed to this? I don't think she set out to portray any image. From what I know from my research - she was shy and quietly spoken but was tough. She'd had to be - she'd had a baby out of wedlock in the 60's - which she said people thought at the time that that was worse than murder. I think men especially, viewed her through their own lusty lens - she was slim, blonde, beautiful, shy - and they took this as gentle - but she was tough - she had enormous power. She walked away from her first recording contract because they wouldn't let her create the artwork for her album cover. She didn't give a shit - she walked. And then they changed their mind. And she was the first musician - EVER - to decide what went on the cover of her album.
Joni Mitchell's music is familiar to so many of us, across different generations. Less familiar are stories about her life and how this influenced her music. In addition to the memorable music, what can we expect to experience in BLUE: The Songs of Joni Mitchell? You will hear the extraordinary stories of her life that shaped her as an artist and musician. She has always used herself and her life as her own muse - to inspire her writing - so in our show, in a beautifully gentle way, we link the songs and the stories to reveal so much more from each lyric. It's one of the things our audiences seem to love the most about the show - it's like really understanding and hearing the songs fully for the first time.
Looking at female artists of today, who do you think will leave as strong and memorable legacy as that handed down by Joni Mitchell? I think it's usually the realm of folk/indie artists. If you are a 'pop'(ular) artist - you have become popular because you appeal to the masses - and to do that you have to smooth the edges - you can't fully be true to your own artistic journey. I think Australian artists like Mojo Juju, Katie Noonan, and Kasey Chambers are great examples of people who have remained true to who they are, and are creating better pathways for future artists to travel.
With rave reviews for this tribute to an enlightened and creative musician, Blue: The Songs of Joni Mitchell promises to be a memorable night of music, song and storytelling, performed in a perfect intimate setting at the Riverside Theatres.