There is some serious talent on stage at the Firehall Arts Centre, as Leonard Cohen’s songbook gets an equally serious (and funny and sexy) workout in Chelsea Hotel.
The fourth staging of the show at the East Van landmark, Chelsea Hotel is a unique hybrid that is part jukebox musical, part musical revue, all built around the story of a tortured writer, looking for inspiration and who becomes haunted by the images of the women he writes about. And even as the show’s concept gets somewhat repetitive over its two acts, the musical skills of this cast (Rachel Aberle, Steve Charles, Marlene Ginader, Tracey Power, Ben Elliott, Kayvon Kelly) make its slight story easily forgiven.
Surprise is the order the night as this cast not only possesses amazing vocal abilities, but they are equally amazing musicians as they take up everything from guitars to keyboards, accordion to harmonica. At times they even trade-off on instruments mid-song. And just wait until you see “I’m Your Man”, which gets to the heart of Tracey Power’s direction, which is as quirky and uniquely beautiful as Steve Charles’ arrangements of Cohen’s music that includes a “Hallelujah” that is, well, surprising.
Performed around Marshall McMahen’s set filled with the writer’s discarded papers piled to the rafters, director Powers uses it to great effect as the cast perform, dance and play their instruments in, on and around it, dressed in Barbara Clayden’s sometimes eccentric costumes.
I admit to having only a passing knowledge of Leonard Cohen’s music, but given the talent in Chelsea Hotel I can understand its draw. This morning I went on a iTunes search for the quintessential Cohen collection. And that was only because there is no Chelsea Hotel cast album.
Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Directed by Tracey Power. Musical direction and arrangements by Steven Charles. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St) until January 3. Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.