Since it was first staged in 2012, the award-winning Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen has been performed over 200 times across the country. Returning to Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre in March, this latest remount which will feature four of the original cast, not only pays homage to the Canadian singer-songwriter who died in 2016, but marks the venue’s 35th anniversary.
“It’s always exciting to welcome new cast members who bring their own personalities and ideas to the show,” says the show’s creator, Tracey Power. “It keeps us all on our toes and the show feeling fresh.”
For the Firehall’s artistic producer, Donna Spencer, the appeal and subsequent longevity of Chelsea Hotel may begin with Cohen’s music, but it is also the inventive staging and storytelling which resonates with audiences.
“Much more than music, the work celebrates Cohen’s tremendous artistry through this concept created by Tracey Power and Steve Charles,” says Spencer.
A long-time Cohen fan herself, Spencer saw the Firehall’s 35th anniversary season the perfect opportunity to say farewell to a Canadian music legend.
“I wanted to pay tribute to Mr. Cohen, to honour him after his passing in 2016 with one last production, to say goodbye, and thank him for all that he contributed to the world of song,” she says.
For those unfamiliar with the work, Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen is the story of a writer, haunted by memories of a tumultuous love life, who checks into New York’s infamous Chelsea Hotel, desperate to find the words and inspiration for his next song.
“[It] draws on the songs of Leonard Cohen to tell the story of a writer who is visited in his hotel room by spirits/muses from his past as he struggles to write and create new material,” explains Spencer. “It is a story of remembered loves and losses; of the foolishness of youth and indulgence and the passion creativity lights in our souls.”
It is a story creator Tracey Power conceived during a workshop for The Accordion, a show about an artist whose relationship with love in all shapes and forms, was complicated.
“The story was told using only live accordion music and movement. When the workshop was complete, I wondered what would happen if I let that story live within the songs of Leonard Cohen,” she explains. “I never thought of any other artist other than Cohen for this piece, it’s the poetic nature of his lyrics that leave the world open for interpretation.”
Coincidentally, it was around the same time Spencer was wondering how the Firehall could develop a work using Cohen’s work.
“It was synchronistic actually, how we connected and how I was able to provide input into the creation and development of this particular work,” she says.
For Power, the power of the show comes when audiences lose themselves inside the walls of the Chelsea Hotel. For fans it is also in being able to hear Cohen’s songs again for the first time with the arrangements created specifically for the show, and for those who are discovering Cohen’s music for the first time, she hopes it is a unique introduction.
“To welcome the magic, the surprise and the love, and not only be entertained, but be moved,” she says. “The talents of six incredible performers playing seventeen different instruments will fill the stage with poetic movement and voices that will fill your soul.”
Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen plays the Firehall Arts Centre in East Vancouver March 17-April 21. Visit https://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.