Theatre review: Chelsea Hotel

A lovely concert that wants to be a play, Chelsea Hotel curates a mix of Cohen’s songs into a vague memory musical: a booze-soaked songwriter is holed up in the title hotel, discarded ideas piled high around him as he’s tormented by Love Lost.

There’s a unifying theme of love’s wreckage in Leonard Cohen’s work. Who knew?

The West Coast sextet on stage pack some impressive musical chops, swapping multiple instruments to bring musical director Steve Charles’ arrangement of Cohen covers to life. (The only vocal trouble on opening should be notched up to illness, apparently.) There’s a range of renditions – from fairly straight recreations to satisfying jazz and bluegrass riffs – that’ll keep long-time fans from calling the show by memory.

There’s no fault with the show musically. But it stumbles, trips and falls trying to force Cohen’s canon into onstage action. Interpretive dancing/gesturing to try and draw out the lyrics’ rich emotional content ends up being a distraction. Or worse, when the cast try to literalize the action (like showing the actual Sisters of Mercy).

After a fantastic minimal staging of Tonight Will Be Fine in the first act (which grabbed the first awkward mid-act applause from the audience), I tried an experiment when “acting out Leonard Cohen’s words” was misfiring: I closed my eyes. The show leapt up, the cast’s earnest musical efforts free from all the stage packaging.

Chelsea Hotel : Leonard Cohen fans will love it. Theatre fans, well… do you like Leonard Cohen?

Kayvon Kelly and Marlene Ginader - Chelsea Hotel - 2014 - Liam Richard photo
Chelsea Hotel

Conceived by Tracey Power

Prairie Theatre Exchange

Through February 9

Directed, conceived and choreographed by Tracey Power; with Rachel Aberle, Lauren Bowler, Steve Charles, Benjamin Elliot, Marlene Ginader and Kayvon Kelly; set design by Marshall McMahen; costume design by Barbara Clayden; lighting design by Ted Roberts; sound design by Xavier Berbudeau; dramaturgy by James MacDonald; musical direction and arrangement by Steve Charles; stage managed by Jaimie Tait; assistant stage managed by Jillian Perry; produced by Donna Spencer.

Kayvon Kelly and Benjamin Elliot - Chelsea Hotel - 2014- Liam Richard photo

Matthew TenBruggencate is a Winnipeg-based writer. He is owned by two cats. Follow him @tenbruggencate, where is he spreading nasty rumours about you.