Setting expectations may be the biggest key to your enjoyment of Circle Game.
Is it musical theatre? Not really, as it lacks a cohesive narrative. Is it a jukebox musical? No, as while like others of that genre it may use a single source for its music, there is no attempt to create a story around disparate songs. Is it a song cycle? Perhaps a bit closer as it uses individually complete songs for solo and ensemble with common themes. Most accurately though would be to consider Circle Game as a concert of Joni Mitchell songs played by a really, really great cover band.
In Circle Game, Andrew Cohen and Anna Kuman have taken 29 songs from Joni Mitchell’s massive discography and created a show featuring the familiar and the more obscure. While many of Mitchell’s songs will be immediately recognizable by those familiar with her work, others may be less-so as Cohen and Kuman give individual songs an indie rock, gospel, blue grass and even an East Coast back kitchen treatment.
Cohen and Kuman go a step further with a couple mash-ups, including “Mitchell Mixed Tape” in the opening number and a beautifully realized combination of “River” and “Both Sides Now” in act two.
It is in these new arrangements and the talent of performers on stage which makes Circle Game so compelling.
Cohen and Kuman, who also co-direct, have assembled a cast of quadruple threats. Required to sing, dance, act and play instruments, the cast of Kimmy Choi, David Cohen, Rowan Kahn, Scott Petrie, Adriana Ravalli and Sara Vickruck are one of the finest groups of young theatre slash music professionals you’ll see on a single stage.
And even while the acting and dancing in Circle Game may be overshadowed by the show’s singing and instrumental imperatives, this talented sextet handles it all with a seasoned ease. Performed with incredible and a seemingly endless energy and passion, there is no weak link here.
Against the backdrop of Carolyn Rapanos’ wonderfully eclectic set and Ian Schimpf’s equally wonderful lighting design, Cohen and Kuman create some dazzling images on stage.
From Cohen and Ravalli’s guitar duet in “A Case of You” to Choi and Kahn on dueling pianos in “Help Me”, the inventiveness is boundless. And wait until you watch as Scott Perrie accompanies himself in “Free Man in Paris”. Vickruck’s solo performance in “Winter Lady” is sublime.
In the show’s program notes, Cohen and Kuman ask audiences to “leave preconceptions at the door and allow yourself to live (or re-live) the message of [Mitchell’s] in this moment, in 2017, through the mouths of twenty-somethings.”
I took that advice to heart and have not been this excited about an original Vancouver work since Onegin took to local stages last year. Stealing a line from my review of that show, Circle Game is as near perfect as a show can be. I suggest you book your tickets now.
Circle Game: Reimaging the Music of Joni Mitchell created and directed by Andrew Cohen and Anna Kuman. A Firehall Arts Centre production on stage at the Firehall Arts Centre until May 20. Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.