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by Michael Portantiere

Jessica Molaskey: Portraits of Joni

  • Jessica-Molaskey.jpgIn collaboration with her husband John Pizzarelli, as well as solo appearances in musical theater, concerts and cabaret, on recordings, etc., the "singers' singer" Jessica Molaskey has proven herself at home in virtually any type of music. This she will demonstrate once again on Saturday, May 30 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), when she offers Portraits of Joni: Jessica Molaskey Sings Joni Mitchell.) I recently talked with one of my favorite artists about one of her favorite artists.


    BROADWAYSTARS: Jonathan Schwartz is hosting your show at NJPAC. I've heard you on his radio show several times through the years.

    JESSICA MOLASKEY: Well, we do a Christmas show every year. We did a live show from BAM that I think hasn't aired yet. Jonathan was friends with my husband before I met him. I made a record years back called Pentimento, as kind of a lark; I just thought I'd hand it out to my family. But Jonathan heard it, he went crazy for it, and he started putting me on the radio. It kind of snowballed, and I've made five records since. I'm very grateful to Mr. Schwartz..

    STARS: Is this the first time you've done the Joni Mitchell show?

    JESSICA: No, we did it for the American Songbook at Lincoln Center last year. It was at the Allen Room, which is now called something else.

    STARS: The Appel Room.

    JESSICA: Yes. I think we were the last show to perform there when it was still the Allen Room. John [Pizzarelli] and I have been introducing more songs of the '60s and '70s into our shows at the Carlyle. For about the past five years, I would occasionally throw a Joni Mitchell song into there to see what would happen -- and, inevitably, people would come up to me afterwards and say, "Thank you for singing Joni." I realized that we probably had enough of her songs to put a show together, so that's what we did. Our daughter Madeleine performed at the American Songbook show, and she'll be at NJPAC as well.

    STARS: I'm not sure about Joni's current health status, but I know it's not good. Do you have any more information you can share?

    JESSICA: I don't. I don't have any inside track to Joni Michell, other than the fact that I've loved her so dearly since I was 16 or 17.

    STARS: Have you ever met or spoken with her?

    JESSICA: No. She's, like, the one person I've loved assiduously that I have not gotten to meet. But last year, Larry Goldings played the Joni show -- he's an incredible piano player -- and then he had to go play at a private party at David Geffen's in L.A., so he got on a plane the next day. He walked in the door at David Geffen's, and Joni was there. She was the first person he saw. Larry said, "Oh, my God, I just played a concert of your songs in New York last night." She said, "Oh, really? What was in it?" He said, "Here, I still have the Playbill in my pocket." That was my only six degrees of Joni moment.

    STARS: When you do the show with Jonathan Schwartz at NJPAC, will he talk with you between songs?

    JESSICA: No, I think he's going to let me do my thing and then we'll sit down and talk, which is basically what we did at the BAM show.

    STARS: You've worked at NJPAC before. Have you performed in both the concert hall and the smaller space, the Victoria Theater?

    JESSICA: I did my own show in the smaller space. Then, a few years ago, I got a call from them on a Friday around 5:00, saying that Barbara Cook was sick and couldn't go on for her concert in the big hall that night. My husband was playing for her, so they called me and said, "Can you do this?" I said, "Yes, but I hope everybody doesn't go running out of the building." I literally threw my makeup and a dress in a bag, got in a car, and got there with, like, 15 minutes to spare. We didn't even have time for a sound check. Not a lot of people stayed, but we had a great time, and it was fun for me to pretend to be Barbara Cook for a night.

    STARS: But, presumably, you didn't do her song stack...?

    JESSICA: Well, we did a bunch of Sondheim!

    STARS: Do you think Joni Mitchell would be a good subject for a bio-musical on stage or on screen?

    JESSICA: It's so funny you should say that. I just had dinner the other night with a woman who's the head of Sony music. She's commercially developing films of songbooks. I told her, "To me, Joni would be great for that, because what appeals to me about her songs is that they're all like little short stories or one-act plays.

    STARS: Good point. Maybe her songs could be the basis of a dance musical, one of those Twyla Tharp-type shows.

    JESSICA: Honestly! It must be in the ether, because we were just talking about it.

    Published on Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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