Archive | February, 2016

Capsule Review – Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen

5 Feb

ChelseaHotel-photo by Mat Simpson-smLeonard Cohen’s timeless music is captured and reinterpreted in this surprisingly toe-tapping production from Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre (presented by Theatre 20 and Theatre Passe Muraille). Conceived and directed by Tracey Power with musical direction and arrangements by Steven Charles, Chelsea Hotel is not so much a jukebox musical as it is a song cycle presented with all the bells and whistles of a theatrical production. Rather than stringing together a flimsy story à la Mamma Mia in order to motivate the breaking out into song, Chelsea Hotel’s narrative treatment of Cohen’s canon is more abstract in nature.

Marshall McMahen’s set – a drab hotel room littered with a literal mountain of discarded ideas in the form of crumpled up scrap paper – is a perfect environment for the exploration of Cohen’s often melancholic and solitary poetry. Jonathan Gould plays a nameless lonesome poet who is visited by gaunt-faced phantasms (Rachel Aberle, Sean Cronin, Christina Cuglietta, Ben Elliot, and Tracey Power) who double as the visible echoes of lovers past. The performers are all very watchable, but it is Elliot who stands out as a cheeky and physically comical bellhop-esque companion to the poet. Powers’ direction – while distinct – could stand to be a little more varied. That doesn’t lessen the impact of some very inventive moments – including some artful, almost magical, blocking involving a large towel.

Collectively, the ensemble act as their own impressive orchestra pit – each performer picking up a different instrument at various points in the show. The result is a nearly non-stop playlist of familiar yet reinvented songs coloured by genres as diverse as jazz, gypsy-folk, country, and even punk.

Chelsea Hotel runs until February 21st at Theatre Passe Muraille. Tickets and details are available here.