A dispatch from !!omg!! blog’s Bureau of Culture:
Dear sensitive NYC ladies and men! Have you been lying face down on your the floor of your dumpy studio listening to Court and Spark for the last three days, crying about nothing? Who can blame you? IT’S JUST THIS F*CKING WEATHER. Well maybe it would good to get out of the house? So buck up and put on your galoshes for an arduous but transformative HEJIRA to the extremely far reaches of the Lower Really East Side, where John Kelly is currently staging his legendary Joni Mitchell performance art dragstravaganza, Paved Paradise: Redux, at the fancy and historic but really fucking far away Abrons Arts Center. It’s worth it, I promise– both for patchouli-drenched Joni Mitchell obsessives and those who just like to feel extra-classy about their drag shows.
Although Kelly has been performing as Mitchell since the inaugural Wigstock (1985!) it’s pretty clear that he hasn’t been using the practice time since then to cultivate his Joni Realness. His blonde wig is stringy and totally not long enough, his costumes are comfortably uninspired, and it looks like he’s reading his stage patter off a piece of paper. The point of this performance is not physical versmilitude. Instead, Kelly saves his Realness for the recreation of Mitchell’s songs, which he executes with an undeviating (and sometimes stunning) faithfulness, managing to be magical twice as often as he is slavish. By the end of the first act, when the disco ball drops from the ceiling at the crescendo of an exquisitely spot-on WOODSTOCK (a song I normally kind of hate!) one begins to understand that even if his wig sucks and his guitar skills are only so-so, this person is maybe possessed.
With a backup band comprising Joni idols Vincent Van Gogh on upright bass and Georgia O’Keefe on keyboards and maracas, the real subject of the show is ultimately less Joni Mitchell or her music than the process of trying to inhabit another artist’s work– a point that the semi-shocking M. Knight Shymalan SURPRISE ENDING TWIST drives home. (I won’t ruin it for you, but suffice to say that it involves an unexpected costume change!)
Anyway, the real Joni Mitchell herself cried actual Canyon Lady tears when she went to see an earlier incarnation of this show in the ’90s, and you will probably cry too, if only because of the weather in Manhattan. But at least you will have left the house. Yay.
Bennett is !!omg!! blog’s cultural corespondent. PAVED PARADISE: REDUX runs at the Abrons Arts Center through the 27th. Buy tickets here.