Firehall Arts Centre, and touring with Arts Club Theatre , until March 26th
My Two Cents
My Two Pence
Circle Game is a great showcase for these incredibly talented musician performers. Using the music of Joni Mitchell with some staggering arrangements by Andrew Cohen (who also co-created, co-directed and musical directed the production alongside Anna Kuman), this two-act experience has moments of breathtaking beauty.
Taking the rich catalogue of lyrics and music from Mitchell, Cohen and Kuman have taken the concept of ‘reimagining’ with gusto and created some versions of songs which are almost unrecognizable. Adding dramatic choreography and obvious characterization, the performers lead us through many ideas and emotions in a Broadway style.
The set is beautiful and perfectly fitting to the style, with standing rugs and moveable instruments lending to some dynamic visual moments. The sweet opening to act one with the six performers harmonizing around a single standing microphone and the percussion number, crescendoing to a drum solo by David Cohen, which opens to act two are both fantastic; throughout the show, each of the performers has their ‘star’ moments, which is great to see. But amongst a lot of heightened dramatics and ever burgeoning crescendos, the most successful moments are the stripped down ones, where the performers have a moment to connect with the audience. There is no doubt this cast is talented.
The show feels, and is, quite long. As we progress through the show, the music feels like a vehicle as some of Cohen and Kuman’s ideas take preceedent (for example, in the case of a sequence involving cell phones and inherent/willful disconnection to each other). I wonder whether it might have been possible to take the theatrics down a notch or two at times, if even just to allow a moment for the audience to reconnect to the core of the show itself – the music.
It was, unfortunately, more than a little overcooked for me. But, if you like reinventions, and complex harmonies and dramatic trope-centric acting styles, paired with a stunning live-band then this may be a highlight of your live experiences this year.
- Penny Warwick
There is so much to describe in Circle Game that it’s difficult to know where to start. The talent involved in this reimagining of Joni Mitchell’s music is undeniable: all six performers onstage sing solo and backup, dance, play multiple instruments, and act out new meanings to Mitchell’s rich stories. It’s an incredibly complex mix, with these performers often flowing between a few different tasks during any one song, and multiple songs often combined together. I was very impressed by how they managed to execute all of these tasks with precision and energy, and they were all undeniably talented musicians.
Was all of this swirling energy and complexity effective? Yes and no. It obscured the message and journey of the lyrics and melodies at least as often as it added to them, but it certainly did impress. One of the most telling moments was at the very beginning, when an audio clip of Joni Mitchell introducing a song was played. She encouraged her audience to sing along, and not worry about tuning or talent, because it was more about the feeling. Almost as soon as they joined in with her, the musicians on stage were adding many layers of harmonies and countermelodies which distracted from Mitchell’s own voice, rather than complimenting it. This artistic choice gave the viewer a sense that this production was a chance for the incredible talent onstage to shine. We were not at all welcome to sing along, in direct contrast to the quote chosen, and Joni Mitchell herself seemed to be overshadowed as well.
There were some strong, compelling moments, when songs were simple, direct, and fresh. If Circle Game contained more of those sincere performances, it would be easier to forgive a few cluttered spots. As it was, the audience was often left confused at the end of a song, because it would transition directly into another melody, or end without much warning or sense of closure. Consequently, applause was often uncertain and/or missing, despite clear appreciation for the wonderful performances. The show itself even ended with a mix of satisfaction and complication. Co-creators Anna Kuman and Andrew Cohen cleverly left Big Yellow Taxi for a final ensemble number, giving the audience a favourite hit as a parting gift, but before we had a chance to properly appreciate it, the performers transitioned into a over-produced encore of the Circle Game song.
If you love big, energetic, lush musicals and talented performers, Circle Game has oodles of those things for you to enjoy. However, nuance and heart are generally lost amidst the showmanship, which is such a unfortunate surprise, considering the incredible source material.
- Kelly Monkton