Chelsea Hotel is an inventive presentation of Leonard Cohen songs

Chelsea Hotel is inventive and theatrical – and probably more fun than a Leonard Cohen concert!


Adrian Glynn McMorran (The Writer), Marlene Ginader (The Lover), Steve Charles (The Sideman), and Lauren Bowler (Sister of Mercy) perform many dramatic and musically diverse collaborations of Leonard Cohen songs during “Chelsea Hotel” at the Firehall Arts Centre – photo David Cooper, courtesy of Firehall Arts Centre


Chelsea Hotel featuring the songs
of Leonard Cohen

Dates and
Venue
8 February – 3 March 2012, 8pm, (2pm Weekend matinees
& 1pm Wedmatinees) | Firehall Arts Centre

Conceived and Directed by Tracey Power

Artistic Direction by Donna Spencer

Music Direction by Steven Charles

Performed by Rachel Aberle, Lauren Bowler, Steve Charles, Benjamin Elliott, Marlene Ginader, Adrian Glynn McMorran
DATES: February 8 to March 3, 2012

8pm, 2pm (Weekend matinees), 1pm (Wednesday matinees)

Today is opening night of “Chelsea Hotel” at Firehall Arts Centre –
featuring songs and poetry of Leonard Cohen…. AND the ACCORDION is a
featured instrument… actually it is the first musical instrument to play in
this amazingly theatrical production.  There are constant visual surprises for the audience.  And there are musical surprises too.  Three
males and three females take turns on up to many different instruments
including violin, cello, double bass, electric guitar, electric bass, drum kit, acoustic guitar, keyboard, ukelele, tambourine, and kazoo…

I saw Chelsea Hotel on Friday Night – the first performance… a world premiere – preview version… and LOVED IT.  I have had Leonard Cohen ear-worms in my head all weekend, as I listened to my Cohen cd's trying to figure out the titles of the songs that were included in the production.

There have been many musicals made of songs by specific songwriters.  Mama Mia by ABBA… Jersey Boys is based on the music of The Four Seasons… Uptown Girl is the music of Billy Joel.  And way before that, musicals were made of George Gershwin and Cole Porter songs.  All of these have a story arcs, and dialogue to develop the plot lines.

But there is no invented dialogue in Chelsea Hotel, nothing but the songs and poetry of Leonard Cohen.  Director Tracey Power has conceived and created a theatrical presentation that moves seamlessly from song to song with interspersed words of poetry.  The drama is in the storytelling of the songs.  The dynamic tension is in the body language and the faces of the performers.  The story is in the words of each song, as they speak of love, break ups, regret, hate, and reconciliation.  And somehow it all works.

Like the musical Chicago, these performances are part fantasy and part memory recall.  The character called The Writer (Adrian Glynn McMorran) is trying to write at his desk and having difficulties.  The inventive set is piled high with crumpled pieces of paper.  The Writer is having writer's block in a room at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City (where Cohen lived for awhile).   He groans and crumples up another piece of paper to throw it against the wall.  Suddenly a man pops up playing a tune on an accordion… and thus the interior workings of The Writer's attempts at song writing began,  The Writer recalls a woman in his life – and a female performer steps onto the stage singing about their relationship.  Then next another musician steps onstage for accompaniment, and another woman who joins in the singing…

Steve Charles (guitar), Benjamin Elliott (accordion), Marlene Ginader (violin), Rachel Aberle (voice), photo David Cooper, courtesy of Firehall Arts Centre

The songs are strangely familiar, as they take their turns like old shirts from a long forgotten box of clothes.  They are comfortable, and in a variety of musical styles and arrangements.  Some songs are old like Suzanne or Lover Lover Lover.  Many are from Cohen's middle period of the 80's and 90's such as I'm Your Man, Tower of Song, First We Take Manhattan and Hallelujah. 

The production is sooooo playful.  There is a carnival cabaret atmosphere, with the performers all wearing whitened faces and exagerated costumes.  Benjamin Elliot's character is called The Magician.  Musical Director Steve Charles is performing as The Side Man.  The arrangements vary from solo instruments to string trio, acoustic folk stylings, to full-on rock and roll.

I found the
musicianship to be surprisingly good… the performers pick up
their instruments and play them when you least expect it.  Rachel Aberle and
Lauren Bowler as The Sisters of Mercy,  both have amazing presence and create dynamic and sexual
tension with Adrian Glynn McMorran's The Writer and the audience.  Marlene Ginader is innoculously beautiful to watch.  She first seems to float down from the mountain of
crumpled paper after appearing first as musical supporting cast on violin, and her character The Lover, takes on increasingly important dynamics.

Friday night was the first audience performance prior to Wednesday's Opening Night on Feb 8th.  I thought the production flowed well.  There was a standing ovation for the performers.

Chelsea Hotel is a fun production.  There are constantly visual and musical developments happening as well as the interaction of the characters.  The songs are entertaining in themselves – both for lyrical beauty, irony and humability.  My recommendations are:
1) don't sit in row A on the floor – there is a row AA in front of you that obscures your view. 

2)
don't sit in the audience far left side.  It is hard to see some aspects
of the stage and performers – that are hidden by a set design.

Marlene Ginader (The Lover), and Adrian Glynn McMorran(The Writer) sing their hearts out to each other, after loving, hating, resenting, pining, forgiving each other to find resolution. – photo David Cooper, courtesy of Firehall Arts Centre

see other links about Chelsea Hotel:
http://www.straight.com/article-596306/vancouver/chelsea-hotel-brings-cohen-songs-life

2 thoughts on “Chelsea Hotel is an inventive presentation of Leonard Cohen songs

  1. Becky

    Todd,
    I’m glad I finally got to see Chelsea Hotel in Saskatoon recently. The instrumentation, choreography and songs are very clever and as you say, full of surprises. your review is beautifully written.
    Great blog!! Thanks.
    Becky Chinn

    Reply
    1. admin

      Hi Becky – great that you were able to see Chelsea Hotel. It gave me a greater appreciation of Cohen’s music, lyrics and poetry. “Lover Lover Lover” became a new favorite Cohen song, and I was very happy to find it on the “Songs from the Road” live cd. The early songs have all grown and matured since Cohen first recorded them, as his own artistry and musical tastes. This theatrical interpretation of his songs is devoid of the Cohenistic chains that he was partial to at the time, and frees them to be songs on their own merits. And in doing so, these arrangements are wonderfully free to interpretation and demonstrate their timelessness and flexibility.
      Cheers, Todd

      Reply

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