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Joni Mitchell: River

From the Vancouver Sun
Joining Joni's River
Shawn Conner

October 5, 2004

As a writer, Joni Mitchell has been responsible for some of the most vivid, lasting and impressionistic pop songs of the last 30 years. Consider a catalogue that includes "Both Sides Now," "Help Me" and "Free Man in Paris." So it's only natural that some canny theatre type would eventually bring the Saskatchewan-raised songwriter's vision to the stage.

Originally performed in Winnipeg at the Prairie Theatre Exchange in 2002, Joni Mitchell: River (at the Vancouver Playhouse Oct. 9-30) is a theatrical presentation of a number of Mitchell compositions. Accompanied by a four-piece band, three vocalists take turns on songs tracing the arc of love, from the giddy first moments to the ensuing power struggles to the insight that follows.

For Rebecca Shoichet, one of the principal singers, the production has been an introduction to the many facets of Mitchell's talent. "I was slightly familiar with [the 1971 Mitchell album] Blue, but I grew up in a generation that wasn't saturated with her," says the 29-year-old while one of her bands, Soulstream, soundchecks at a Yaletown nightclub. "She's an incredible songwriter and I knew that already, but you don't often get a chance to do an intense study of a specific songwriter, and as a writer myself it's been a huge learning experience. She's so prolific it's amazing."

As a member of the 10-piece Soulstream, a cover-band-for-hire, the Ottawa-born, Victoria-raised performer belts out Michael Jackson and Chaka Khan hits, while as front woman for original act Mimosa, she sings a blend of bossa nova, jazz and pop. Shoichet also does voices for anime and, when time permits, gives teaching lessons. But when her piano teacher told her about River, she couldn't resist auditioning. John Mann, of Vancouver folk act Spirit of the West, and Loretta Bailey, a performer from Toronto, were the other two successful applicants. "I hadn't met them before, so there was some of that first-day-of-school kind of nervousness on the first day of rehearsals," says Shoichet.

Now, the bubbly, diminutive singer has nothing but nice things to say about the two "incredible" co-stars who take solo turns on some songs and join in on others. "Generally, I'm singing in between the two of them, harmony-wise," says Shoichet. "We blend really well for the three-part stuff. But we're also three individuals as characters in the show."

Shoichet makes it clear that, despite how it might seem, Joni Mitchell: River -- directed by its creator, Allen MacInnis -- is not about a love triangle. "It's more like there are these three people sharing their own experiences with each other and with the audience," she says. "We're not connected. We have individual relationships we're talking about."

Nor does River trace the journey of a talented Canadian from Saskatoon-raised small-town girl to internationally respected songwriter and musician. That production will have to wait.

"It's about the music," says Shoichet. "You really get to listen. This is going to be a listener's dream, just to hear transitions from song to song. The flow of one song into another is poetic. It's kind of like a river, which is the idea."

(Contributed by imbriguy)

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