This unique production crosses a range of performance genres. Music, spoken word, and storytelling combine to take the audience on a trip down memory lane. It is a tribute gig, as much as it is a play, tracing the career of Joan Baez, the American folk singer and songwriter, who dedicated her life and music to peace.
After performing The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, a suitably poignant opening number, Joan Baez (Australian singer Petra Elliot) starts to tell the audience of her childhood, her early activism, and the start of her singing career. There are no scenes, or drama per se. Rather in between songs, or between verses, Joan shares short anecdotes of her life. This structure of switching between singing and storytelling continues throughout the performance.
The show focuses on the significant moments during the 60s in America. You see how the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr., Woodstock and the Vietnam War challenged Joan’s beliefs, and inspired her songs of protest and social justice. Interestingly, Joan was first inspired by Gandhi to develop her music as a weapon of non-violence.
Joan’s personal relationships and artistic collaborations with fellow musicians, including Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Janis Joplin are also explored. Cast members Bekkii O’Connor and Paul Watson embody these iconic figures as they sing a number of their most famous songs. Ultimately the story, as the show’s title suggests, leads towards Joan’s brilliant performance at Woodstock in 1969.
Petra Elliot’s voice captures the tenderness and purity of Joan perfectly. For a woman who was so fierce in her pursuit for peace – she was even arrested once during a Vietnam protest – she sings, speaks, sits and plays the guitar with such a gentle and sweet disposition.
The entire performance, including the moments Joan is speaking to the audience, is accompanied by guitar. Along with the subtle lighting, this creates a meditative feeling on stage. And the rare moments when Joan sings unaccompanied, letting her voice echo throughout the space, is very haunting.
The stage is set up like a live concert, with microphones, stools, cables, a water station, a grand piano, and an array of guitars standing like statues around the performers. Though this show appeals primarily to the generation who lived through the 60s, and are more familiar with Joan’s discography, the contemporary style with which the show is performed, combined with Elliot’s stunning vocals, makes this enjoyable for everyone.
At the start of the show Joan says, in the most gracious and dignified way, she was born gifted. Though she is very talented vocally and as a writer, which, are both represented in this show, it is her power to connect people through her music and stories, which is arguably her most precious gift. Whether it is an entire audience singing along with her to We Shall Overcome, or transporting this audience to a time in America almost 50 years ago, it is this ability to connect, which makes her a truly great artist.
Joan Baez: The Road To Woodstock
Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Performance: Sunday 26 April 2015 – 8.30pm
Season continues to 3 May 2015
Bookings: (03) 8290 7000 or online at: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au
For more information, visit: www.chapeloffchapel.com.au for details.
Image: Joan Baez in Hamburg 1973
Review: Thomas Jones
Thomas Jones has gained extensive experience over the past seven years both in the UK and Australia working as an editor for Australian Times, and a freelance reviewer for Everything Theatre and FilmDude. He was also an assessor for the Off West End Theatre Awards known as The Offies, and created KangRooviews – a website promoting Australian performing arts in the UK.