Both Sides Now: Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen — a cabaret starring musicians Robbie Schaefer and Danielle Wertz that sold out in 2022 — returns to Signature Theatre from December 5 through December 23, 2023. (DCTA’s review of the hit 2022 run is below.) Tickets are $45 and available online or by calling the box office at 703-820-9771.
A captivating cabaret celebrates Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen at Signature
(Originally published November 5, 2022)
In a chilly black box theater, the stage is cozily dressed with two cushioned dining chairs, a side table with a small drawer, and a vase with dried flowers. If you didn’t know better, it might be the setting for an intimate, domestic one-act play. But the microphones, music stands, and large piano that next come into focus make it inescapably clear that tonight is about the music of life, just as the songwriters would have wanted. Both Sides Now: Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen at Signature Theatre is a cabaret in dedication to two powerful storytellers who have shaped the folk music songbook since the 1960s.
Opening with “Case of You,” the lilting, velvety vocals of Danielle Wertz pulled you into a love spinning and complicated and soft. Her pilgrimage through its many dimensions continued with captivating renditions of “Rainy Night House,” the aching “Michael from Mountains, and “All I Want,” before submitting to a truly sorrowful and bewitching “Both Sides Now.” Repeatedly referencing Mitchell’s focus on duality of mess and joy in life, Wertz’s folk-jazz interpretations of the Mitchell songbook were slippery, enchanting, and reverent. The admiration and sense of kinship with Mitchell that Wertz felt were clear in every phrase.
A connection she deepened for the audience by sharing an adage from the songwriter herself: that you shouldn’t hear her sing the music, but instead see yourself in the songs; that is when the conversation blossoms. Not too long after, and perhaps by magic, the next song, “Little Green,” lodged itself into my heart (melancholy also born with the moon in cancer), leaving me and the room transfixed.
Partner to Wertz in this captivating musical journey—and with a low, rumble reminiscent of that of Cohen’s embattled voice—was Robbie Schaefer. Bringing a fluidity of tone to Cohen’s music that unlocked new sides of several of the greatest hits, including “So Long Marianne” and “Suzanne,” Schaefer honored these stories of life and relationships gone by while inviting the audience to reflect on their own Mariannes or Suzannes.
But for me it was “Lover, Lover, Lover” that most successfully wove Schaefer’s charisma and earnest desire for connection with Cohen’s storytelling. A poet first in life, Cohen had a fierce commitment to documenting the shades of life, and it found new spirit and momentum in Schaefer and his dextrous guitar playing.
Wonderful solo and better yet together, the moments when Schaefer and Wertz dueted were really where the evening reverberated. Particularly in the haunting mix of “Who By Fire” by Cohen and “R’tzei” by Stephen Richards, Wertz and Schaefer met the music with mutual commitment and beautifully, hauntingly blended vocal tones. It was that honesty and vulnerability, demanded by the pieces, that connected the artists to the songwriters as well as to the audience.
The evening was supported by the focused direction of Signature Cabarets director Mark G. Meadows, the moody and transporting lighting design of Chris Stull, and the lush audio engineering of Ricardo A. Coleman Jr. Natural patter about the performers’ pasts, the songs’ histories, and the lives of Mitchell and Cohen was seamlessly woven around and through the setlist.
Under a blanket of stars with a soft purple halo, the tripping, pining phrases of the closing number, “Hallelujah,” was the only fitting end for Both Sides Now at Signature Theatre. A masterful showcase of two artists who have left their mark on generations, this cabaret felt called to celebrate our messy, sorrowful, joy-filled world, and gave hope that we can trade fists for hands and the drum for the fiddle once more.
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission.
Both Sides Now: Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen plays from December 5 to 17, 2023, at Signature Theatre—4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington, VA. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 703-820-9771.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional. For details, visit sigtheatre.org/plan-your-visit/safety/.
Signature Theatre casts ‘Both Sides Now: Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen
(news story, September 15, 2022)