Chelsea Hotel has nowhere to go but up : Theatre Review

If you walk one block east of Main Street and make your way down Cordova you’ll find the Chelsea Hotel, a now buried yet iconic landmark that resides at the heart of the Firehall Arts Centre.  As you pass the front door and move closer to your seat you will be sure to notice mounds of crumpled ideas and words that may have been lost forever but for now merely symbolize the tortured and romantic works of a young Leonard Cohen.  A wooden desk off to stage left with a guitar at one side and a writer furiously scribbling what appears to be a new song begins the play.

The Chelsea Hotel is an extremely ambitious work that celebrates the musings of Leonard Cohen through song, dance, and theatre.  It tells the tale of a writer that is searching through his past and battling with his present in order to find love and inspiration.  The set alludes to the fact that the writer is staying at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, a now hidden gem within the suburbs of Manhattan that was once home to such artists as Joplin, Cohen and Bob Dylan to name but a few.

The Chelsea Hotel’s remarkably talented young cast draws you into a world that was once filled with Beat Poets and a postmodern society of young artists and musicians.

The cast performs classic Cohen songs like I’m Your Man, Suzanne and First We Take Manhattan yet provides an interesting twist to both the arrangements and the interpretation of these pieces.

In the first half of the play, The Writer played by Adrian Glynn McMorran, a local singer-songwriter himself, proved himself with a unique and haunting rendition of Tonight Will be Fine.  With the full approval and applause of a sold out Firehall audience, Glynn’s opening night jitters went right out the window and wondrously, a more human Cohen emerged.

While nothing is perfect (especially on opening night), the fact that each cast member also wielded tremendous ability behind a plethora of instruments was remarkable.

Musical Director Steve Charles, which also performed as the character Sideman, led the way on most songs either by playing Guitar, stand-up bass or even drums.

Benjamin Elliott who played The Bellhop gave Chelsea Hotel a twinkle of humour when it needed it most.  A gifted performance that provided Glynn’s somewhat serious tone with an uplifting flavour which the Sister’s of Mercy played by Rachel Aberle and Lauren Bowler also allowed.

The second half of Chelsea Hotel shot forward with brute force and truly took the audience by surprise.  Again it was not only the newly interpreted renditions of songs that made this performance unique but also the way a story finally began to reveal itself.

Bright red lights and fierce guitars accompanied by an electric version of Hallelujah, which then melded into A Singer Must Die – then If It Be Your Will which Marlene Ginader sang with the grace and conviction of Cohen’s long lost love.

While it would have been nice to have had a bit more with regards to dialogue, the unique experience of watching six wonderful actors, that also made up the band for the night, was not only inspiring but made one feel like they were back at the Chelsea Hotel.

 (out of five)

Review by Ricardo Khayatte | Photo by David Cooper

The Chelsea Hotel is playing Firehall Arts Centre.

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Ricardo Khayatte

Ricardo Khayatte