There is a haunting quality to the poetry that fills Joni Mitchell's music - and it is perhaps rivaled only by the musical complexity of her contemporary, Leonard Cohen.
When it came time to develop a stage show, singer and actress Lauren Fox was torn on which of the two artists deserved her focus.
"I was sitting with my father, who introduced me to their music in the first place ... and I said, 'I want to (focus on) Joni Mitchell, but I want to do Leonard Cohen, too,'" says Fox, a New York City-based singer and cabaret performer. "He said, 'You know, I'm not positive about this … but I seem to recall they might have dated. You might want to look into that.' I said, 'No way.' So, I Googled it … and I was off to the races."
Fox soon learned that the two acclaimed songwriters began a romance after meeting at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967, where they were both performing.
Their romance, told through song, is the basis of Fox's new stage show. "Love, Lust, Fear and Freedom: The Music of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen" will come to the Landis Theater in Vineland 8 p.m. Saturday, March 23, as part of the "Appel Farm at the Landis" concert series.
The show is made up of 16 songs - nine from Mitchell and seven from Cohen. Fans of both singers will enjoy an evening of familiar songs including "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye," "Chelsea Morning," "Suzanne" and "Both Sides Now" - all performed by Fox, who dons a hat tilted slightly to the side when interpreting Cohen's songs.
Once Fox learned of Mitchell and Cohen's brief, but tumultuous, affair, she began to learn everything she could about it, she says. Clues of the romance, she soon learned, were everywhere - sprinkled in their poetic song lyrics that have been covered by countless singers over the decades.
"I read pretty much every book ever written about them," says Fox, who has also appeared in several movies and television shows, including Fox's "New Amsterdam" and "Fringe." "I read every biography, every little thing I could get my hands on about them. It took me months. When putting a show together, I believe in extensive, extensive research. I want to be a scholar on it by the time I put the show together.
"I discovered in my research that Joni wrote a few songs for Leonard," Fox says. "He didn't write any specifically for her ... but there are references."
A line from Cohen's song "Suzanne," for example, from his debut 1967 album "Songs of Leonard Cohen," says: "You can spend the night beside her, And you know that she's half crazy, But that's why you want to be there, And she feeds you tea and oranges, That come all the way from China."
A verse from Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning," from her 1969 album "Clouds," says almost in reply: "Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I knew, There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too, And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses."
"She stayed with him at the Chelsea Hotel - she wrote 'Chelsea Morning' for him," Fox says.
Once Fox began discovering their lyrical references to one another, song choices for the show began to fall into place, she says.
"When I decided to do a show with both of them, I had all these songs in my head," Fox says. "It was the first story show I've done. But I realized really quickly that you don't get to choose the songs you like. You tell the story and then the songs that work fit in."
The show has earned critical acclaim since it debuted this year at the Metropolitan Room in New York City. For Fox, it was a chance to pay homage to two of her favorite artists and writers.
"I always said to people, (Mitchell) writes the music for my life, you know?" Fox says. "Her lyrics just resonate so strongly and so personally for me. I love her voice. The key she sings in. I'm a huge folk music fan to begin with. But what's so beautiful about Joni is, first of all, she's a masterful lyricist and musician.
"With Leonard, he's an intellectual, he's spiritual and very sensual songwriter," Fox says. "He started out as a poet, and I love poetry. I love his voice and his phrasing. I think that they're so far and above (other artists) in terms of skill and mastery in songwriting. There are only a handful of songwriters I would say that about."