Oak Bay grad Rebecca Shoichet lands co-starring role in Joni Mitchell: River
Diversity is Rebecca Shoichet's middle name. Tonight, the former Victoria singer co-stars in the Vancouver Playhouse's premiere of the musical revue Joni Mitchell: River. It's a significant break for Shoichet who in 1993 -- fresh out of Oak Bay high school -- wowed local audiences as Maria in an amateur production of West Side Story.
Yet what's most striking, as one chats with this 29-year-old, is the mind-boggling variety of music she performs as a full-time Vancouver singer. Her regular gigs include Soul Stream, a soul-funk band; Mimosa, a French lounge-swing band, and crooning Edith Piaf tunes with gypsy-jazzman Lache Cercell.
That's not all. Shoichet has performed as a backup singer for nationally-known rockers Amanda Marshall and Tom Cochrane. She's belted out jump-blues with Johnny Ferriera and the Swing Machine. And she's gigged with hip-hop diva Kia Kadira, an old high-school buddy.
There's more. Shoichet had the singular distinction of playing a fuzzy Ewok for a four-minute independent film, Ewok in an Elevator (2004). She's also the English voice of Hamtaro, a Japanese cartoon character with those weird, vacant anime eyes (the web-site says Hamtaro is the "inspirational hero of all the other hamsters.") And she does voice-overs for Inu-Yasha, another anime series about a egomaniacal half-demon who seeks the "jewel of four souls" -- whatever that means -- so he can become a full demon.
College students in jazz performance are always told that cultivating the ability play anything is the best way to make a living in music. And that's certainly Shoichet's approach.
"Yeah, I'd say so," she said. "And I like all kinds of different music. I wouldn't want to limit myself by pigeon-holing myself into one thing."
She learned the "more is more" lesson early. Even when Shoichet was singing jazz standards in Victoria, she often mixed it up. For instance, in 1999, just before relocating to Vancouver, she donned a gold lame suit at Hermann's nightclub to sing tunes by ABBA and K.C. and the Sunshine Band for the neo-disco band, Xanadu. That outfit included her brother, bassist Sam Shoichet, who's also a working musician in Vancouver.
There's no denying that landing a lead in a Vancouver Playhouse show is one of the flashiest feathers in her fedora. Conceived by Winnipeg director Allen MacInnis (it premiered in the city two years ago), Joni Mitchell: River is a dialogue-free revue also starring Loretta Bailey and Spirit of the West singer John Mann.
The show sounds like one of the sort of baby-boomer comfort foods the Vancouver Arts Club typically stages. Nonetheless, for any young singer, a Vancouver Playhouse credit equals increased credibility.
The small irony is that Shoichet -- likely because she's so young -- wasn't particularly a Mitchell fan before being assigned such classics as Hejira, River and Coyote.
Even though Shoichet is familiar with jazz and pop standards, Mitchell's music hadn't yet made it into her repertoire. That's partly because Joni infuses her vocal lines with an idiosyncratic melisma elaborate enough to strike fear into the hearts of many vocalists.
She landed the role almost by accident. Shoichet heard the Playhouse was auditioning singers for Joni Mitchell: River, and was interested. However, her funk band had a conflicting gig on Quadra Island that weekend. When she returned Sunday, her piano teacher told her the auditions were continuing on Monday as well. Shoichet quickly worked up Chelsea Morning and Carey.
The daughter of a Victoria physician and a book restorer, Shoichet grew up in a family in which artistic pursuits were smiled upon. Still, It wasn't like everyone sat around the dinner table singing songs. "But we were always encouraged. I'd create a dance routine with my friend, and my parents were pleased audience members," said Shoichet.
Shoichet's childhood dream of becoming a performer was nurtured by roles in nine Victoria Operatic Society productions from ages nine to 19. At Oak Bay high, she performed in such musicals as The Music Man and Guys and Dolls.
Joni Mitchell: River runs to the end of the month. After that, Shoichet plans to record an independent album and shop it to record labels. In typical Shoichet fashion, it will be a mix of styles: folk, soul, pop, jazz and beyond
Despite its eclecticism, she hopes the recording will showcase her talent not as a Jill-of-all-styles, but as an artist with a unique and distinctive voice. "It will clarify who Rebecca is as a person, musically," Shoichet said.
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