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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Review- Paved Paradise Redux: The Art of Joni Mitchell (TWEED TheaterWorks)

The Fab Marquee review by Dianna Martin.

Paved Paradise Redux: The Art of Joni Mitchell, starring John Kelly, is one of the best concerts/performance art shows I have been to in years. Produced by TWEED TheaterWorks in association with Robbi Kerns, I was captivated throughout the entire show.
John Kelly
photo credit: Austin Young

I tried explaining the show to a friend, who tossed it off as "Oh, cool, you saw a Joni Mitchell drag show. That's great. Wanna go for coffee?" - and I had to try so hard to express that this was so much more than that. This was an Event, and John Kelly (whose credits span from Broadway to Carnegie Hall to the San Francisco Symphony, The Warhol Museum...and the list goes on) had everyone in the beautiful Abrons Arts Center in the palm of his hand. From the moment the show begins, you hear a recording of one of the live shows' announcers in the darkness of the theater, and then as the curtain rises, we see Kelly's back to us, upstage basked in the gorgeous lighting by Ben Kato, with bassist Paul Ossola on one side and pianist Zecca Esquibel (who is also the musical director of the piece) start to sing and play. As Kelly hits Mitchell's high notes and sings her melodies, in a gorgeous dress (the costumes, by Gabriel Berry, were fantastic) he turns around...and although we are well aware that there is a man inhabiting the costume, that is where that thought ends.

Instead of, as my friend said, "A Joni Mitchell drag show," Kelly became Mitchell completely; he embodied her as a person, singer, musician (he not only sang her songs but played several different guitars and a dulcimer). I found myself listening to her songs like I never had before, and feeling the emotion behind them...again, like I never had before. I wept; I laughed. He would punctuate moments with dialogue to the audience and go into certain mannerisms of hers that would have the audience laughing out loud. Within those moments he was having fun being her; and then he would grin and it would be Kelly grinning as Joni grinning at herself. Nothing is more delightful, when attending performances, than to see performers have so much fun doing what they do - while doing it incredibly well.

The evening, broken up into two acts, culminated in a change of clothes onstage as we saw Joni become Kelly; not missing a beat and there was a murmur of respect as the audience felt Kelly acknowledge that no one can truly BE Joni; that he is someone else underneath, a gifted entertainer and performer who has taken us on a journey for a little while and allowed us to experience Joni from a vantage point of love, respect, and humor.

If you have an opportunity to see this, don't hesitate for a moment.

TWEED Theater Works & Robbi Kerns present
John Kelly's
Paved Paradise Redux: The Art of Joni Mitchell
June 18-27, 2009
Abrons Arts Center

Tickets are $20-25, visit for more information.

Abrons Arts Center | 466 Grand Street | Manhattan.

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