The affair of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen in the late 1960s may have only lasted a few months, but its resonance in the songs of these two Canadiansespecially in Ms. Mitchell's lyricsis far reaching.
A speculative exploration of their personal and artistic chemistry is only one aspect of Lauren Fox's remarkable cabaret show, Love, Lust, Fear & Freedom: The Songs of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen," at the Metropolitan Room.
A talented actress ("Hillbilly Women") and co-author with her sister, Haley Fox, of the Alice's Tea Cup" restaurant cookbook, Ms. Fox, with her long straight hair and penetrating gaze, resembles a brunette version of the young Ms. Mitchell crossed with the actress Vera Farmiga. Her show strings together 16 songsׯ by Ms. Mitchell and 7 by Mr. Coheninto a spellbinding his-and-hers dialogue that conjures the charged erotic climate of the hippie culture of the Woodstock era, when sex was infused with romantic mysticism. Under the musical direction of the pianist Jon Weber, with Ritt Henn on bass, and Peter Calo on guitar, the arrangements approximate the sound of the early albums.
As Ms. Fox moved back and forth from one songwriter to another on Thursday, she donned a black hat tilted at a rakish angle to sing Mr. Cohen's songs, inflecting her voice with faintly sarcastic gumshoe swagger that perfectly captured the tinge of self-mockery in his quasi-biblical reflections.
Ms. Fox's voice is considerably lower than Ms. Mitchell's ethereally angelic soprano. Her darker sound helped her to dig into the emotions under the celestial camouflage and uncover nuggets of truth like the line Oh I love you when I forget about me," in All I Want."
In their youth, Ms. Fox says, these two people wielded tremendous power over the opposite sex. The songs receive just the right amount of biographical annotation, with Ms. Mitchell's Cactus Tree" and Mr. Cohen's Bird on a Wire" cited as definitive expressions of who they were at the time, both in their own ways consumed by desire.
Ms. Fox's rendition of Mr. Cohen's Hallelujah" was the deepest and most dramatically revealing of any I've heard. The bitterness and self-laceration of this song about the failure of a relationshipand all relationshipsregistered keenly. With minimal melodrama she conveyed the steep prize of being in the thrall of romantic heat as time goes by: serial, deepening disenchantment.
Lauren Fox will perform again on April 5, May 12 and May 17 at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, Flatiron district, (212) 206-0440, metropolitanroom.com.
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