Deborah Stone “Takes Us Back” with Joan, Joni, Dylan, and Others at Pangea

The first time I had the joy of seeing New York native Deborah Stone live on stage was in July 2022 for her one-woman show Chiaroscuro at New York City’s cabaret venue Pangea.  Before the multitalented performer had even sung a single note, I was impressed by her marked self-assuredness and empowering stage presence.  Unlike so many artists who regularly perform in an intimate setting, it seemed that Stone didn’t feel the need to create a facade of vulnerability.  The audience soon learned that this artist had the vocal prowess to back up her confidence; she is quite a gifted singer, with smooth delivery and an impressive range.  That range, it turns out, extends to her choice of the music she performs. Deborah Stone returned to Pangea on January 22, 2023 for a very different production: a one-afternoon-only musical showcase tellingly named Take Me Back: Joan, Joni, Dylan, and Others. The “Joan”, “Joni”, and “Dylan” of the title, as astute pop culture aficionados may have already guessed, are Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan.  That said, many other artists were included as well.  In addition to honoring such icons as The Beatles, James Taylor, and Steve Winwood, Stone included music by some truly unsung heroes from the 1960’s in her show, including Theodore Bikel, Gordon Bok, and others.  As far as the “Take Me Back” part of the show’s name, Stone indeed honored that promise as well.  To echo the lyrics of Carole King’s Goin’ Back, one of her songs in her set list, “So catch me if you can, I’m goin’ back!“.  All of her musical choices, which spanned the time range from 1962 through 1975, were songs that Stone had performed from one of her gigs as a folk-guitarist/singer in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the ’70’s.  Every song seemed distinctly personal to her.  Stone’s aforementioned confidence and talent, as well as her smart sense of humor, were on display with Take Me Back.  For this production, directed by Lina Koutrakos, Stone used her handpicked choice of songs and her own personal stories from that era (She declared how 1965’s Bay of Fundy from Gordon Bok, an early girlhood crush of hers, had changed her life.) to capture a specific time capsule: a moment in American history when it seemed, perhaps for the first time ever, that ANYTHING was possible.  The music of that era became the embodiment of that positive mentality– mixed with, perhaps, a dose of concurrent social consciousness.  Just how well does that music from Deborah Stone’s days as a self-described “part-time troubadour” hold up for audiences in 2023? Judging by the audience’s reaction, it has held up very well.  Stone kicked off with Bob Dylan’s unapologetically sexy I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, an unambiguous musical invitation to romance.  She then showed off how well she can hold some challenging notes with Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, originally sung by Joan Baez, one of her early role models.  Her range for that song was astonishing, bordering on operatic. 

Speaking of “range”, it is worth mentioning that there was a wide variety of ages in the audience at Pangea that afternoon.  Some of the crowd were seen closing their eyes and grooving along to Stone’s voice, seemingly being transported back to when they had first heard these songs– perhaps at one of those guitar shops that used to be on West 48th Street?!  Meanwhile, there was the other end of the generation range: After the show, one of the younger attendees shared that while he instantly recognized such timeless tracks as Bob Dylan’s Forever Young (Stone’s hard-hitting and high-reaching closing song for the show…) and Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now (My favorite Joni song, which Stone gave exquisite justice…) , he was still able to relate to the less familiar songs.  It’s no mystery why: The lyrics– especially when sang in such an intimate setting where we can actually UNDERSTAND them, and adorned only by Stone’s guitar– still have the ability to move us.   A song like Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, for example, wears its timestamp in its title, but can still hold its own 53 years later. And surely enough. when Stone sings Pete Seeger’s hauntingly beautiful Where Have All the Flowers Gone, it becomes evident that this iconic pop song only becomes MORE relevant as time goes on… particularly when Stone flawlessly delivers that lyric, “Oh when will you ever learn?…” (In an interesting tidbit of trivia, Stone shared that this was the first song she had ever sung “a capella”.)

A true “folk fantasia”, Take Me Back is a delight form start to finish.  In a show with many highlights, Stone repeatedly reminds us about the transgenerational power of music. Her joy at performing Pollerita, Theodore Bikel’s  Bolivian folk song, is positively contagious.  Stone’s feverishly romantic rendition of Don McLean’s And I Love You So brought the audience to silence; It’s no mystery why Stone was asked to sing this one at a friend’s wedding.  In case you haven’t figured out by now, Stone does especially well with the songs of Bob Dylan, and her take on Dylan’s Daddy, You’ve Been on My Mind is particularly delightful.  I won’t say what the encore was, but I will say that in the spirit of the entire show, it was indeed emblematic of its era.  Still, Deborah made it truly her own. 

The creative antecedent for Stone’s show at Pangea came from a December 2022 show at New York City’s Urban Stages, where Stone’s friend Sue Matsuki suggested that Stone do a “coffeehouse set”.  With Take Me Back: Joan, Joni, Dylan, and Others, Deborah Stone has indeed brewed up one robust– and very classy— cup of coffee.

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