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vancouverplays review


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— Rachel Aberle, Steve Charles, Benjamin Elliott , Marlene Ginader and
Lauren Bowler. Photo: David Cooper

Conceived by Tracey Power
Firehall Arts Centre
Feb. 3-Mar. 3
604-689-0926 or

(This is Jerry’s review of the original Firehall Arts Centre production from 2012).

Tracey Power is one of Vancouver’s premiere musical theatre artists, both as writer and performer, and the Leonard Cohen show she has created, directed and choreographed is a hell of a tribute. Not quite a musical revue and really not a play, Chelsea Hotel is a concept piece that features a Cohen-like character called The Writer (Adrian Glynn McMorran), trying to compose music in a hotel room (Marshall McMahen’s clever set features walls of manuscript and a pyramid of balled-up sheets of paper) where he becomes haunted—no, let’s say surreally besieged—by characters from his songs. The women, mostly, to and of whom he sings, as well as manifestations of himself.

The concept is easily the weakest part of the show, and really its only weakness. It gives a kind of structure to the evening, which really needs no excuse. The songs are great, Steve Charles’ arrangements (multiple voices, unusual harmonies) are consistently interesting, Powers’ staging is entertaining, Barbara Clayden’s costumes cute, and the performances are excellent. 

Rachel Aberle, Lauren Bowler and Marlene Ginader are the various women who sing very well, prance about the stage and play a variety of instruments—Ginader on violin most spectacularly —and Benjamin Elliott and Charles are multi-instrumental musicians who also occasionally sing. The talent on stage is pretty awesome although the drumming and dancing could be better. At the centre of it all, on guitar, McMorran is a charismatic performer equally adept at heart-melting ballads and house-melting rockers. He’s no Cohen but doesn’t try to be. Anyway, who is?

The performers are the medium but Leonard Cohen is the message. The show showcases Cohen’s remarkable oeuvre, even though it gives us only a taste of the whole. “Take This Waltz” and an up-tempo “Suzanne” done square-dance style with banjo; “Dance Me to the End of Love” and “So Long Marianne”; a ferocious “First We Take Manhattan” from Bowler; “Tonight Will Be Fine” with its great lyric, “I am too thin/And your love is too vast.” An upbeat “Sisters of Mercy”; “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong” (“I lit a thin green candle/To make you jealous of me”); “Paper Thin Hotel,” an obvious inspirations for the show; “I’m Your Man” and “The Future” (“When they said REPENT REPENT/I wonder what they meant”); a killer “Chelsea Hotel” from McMorran; “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On”—one of Cohen’s less enigmatic lyrics; “Diamonds in the Mine” and “Joan of Arc” and “Closing Time.” And just when you think, wow, that guy has written a hell of a lot of great songs, the show closes with “Tower of Song,” a sweet “Bird on a Wire,” and a deliciously grotesque “Hallelujah.”

I missed “Song of Bernadette,” probably my personal favourite, But hey, there are more than enough Cohen songs left for Chelsea Hotel 2. Can’t wait.

Jerry Wasserman