Opening night of "Women of Heart and Mind: The Songs of Joni Mitchell" was a success for The Youngstown Playhouse on Friday night. The sold-out, concert-style unscripted show, created by musical coordinator James McClellan and director Donna Smith Downie, features selections from the expansive songbook by the iconic Joni Mitchell.
Four multi-talented women gathered in a cafe open-mic night setting, creating an ad-hoc sign-up sheet amongst themselves and weaving in fun facts and biographical information about the Canadian singer/songwriter. The anecdotes, and the genuine respect felt by the cast, transformed this musical revue into a true homage.
Natalie Kovacs was amazing with her rendition of "Big Yellow Taxi" on guitar with spot-on backup from the rest of the cast, and equally mesmerizing with "River" on piano. Making her all the more impressive is the fact that this young lady is only 14 years old. Her voice sounded much more mature and developed, while retaining a pleasant high range.
Kate Pelini, also still in high school, highlighted the poignancy of Mitchell's lyrics with a moving, spoken version of "Conversation." She was accompanied by Kovacs on "Blue" and "Stand," showing she could easily handle the challenging range of Mitchell's songs, and she took a turn on the ivory herself with a beautiful performance of "For Free."
Bridget Yurcisin seemed the most at ease on stage. She was incredible on the guitar and had a strong voice, giving a perfect delivery of "I Had a King." Yurcisin, having learned to play the dulcimer in the past few weeks, performed "A Case of You" on the delicate and finicky instrument.
Diane Drapcho, who named her guitar Joni, was a plethora of knowledge on the honoree. She wasn't shy about admitting she's been listening to the music of Mitchell for a longer time than her fellow cast mates, and her presence furthered the seriousness of the off-the-cuff tribute. Her rich and whimsical voice made easy work of classics such as "Chelsea Morning" and "Help Me" as well as the inspirational title song "Woman of Heart and Mind."
The cast also gathered as an ensemble for some of the shows best songs such as "All I Want" and "The Circle Game." While each was great at her solos, it was amazing to see their talents combine.
The spontaneous aspect of an open-mic night was slightly betrayed by the set list printed in the program, reminding the audience that they are still in a theater. Lighting designed by Ellen Licitra was sharp and added a touch of drama to the spoken piece "The Last Time I Saw Richard."
This production is a great example of what can happen when artists come together to openly collaborate. While the show touches on subjects of feminism and relationships, the focus on the music and lyrics ultimately made this art for art's sake, and a wonderful evening.
"Women of Heart and Mind: The Songs of Joni Mitchell" will run today and May 13 at 2:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call The Youngstown Playhouse at 330-788-8739 or visit www.theyoungstownplayhouse.com.
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