The Firehall Arts Centre’s ‘Chelsea Hotel’ pays homage
By Jillian McMullen, Staff Writer
The Chelsea Hotel has seen some of the biggest and greatest artists of the last century—Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there, Andy Warhol and his film star Viva called it home, and even Madonna spent time there in the ’80s. Leonard Cohen, however, is probably most intimately associated with the hotel. He is famously known to have had an affair with Janis Joplin there in 1968, and later wrote two songs about his experiences in the infamous New York landmark.
The play Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen reworks the songwriter’s discography to follow a love-sick writer’s own stint at the hotel. Cohen struggles to come to terms with the women of his past and the woman of his present who both inspires and distracts him from his next song. His music does not just inspire the plot—it is the plot and accounts for the only dialogue between characters, a testament to the transcendence of his lyrics. The production is made up of six performers who play a total of 17 different instruments.
The production originally debuted in 2012 and has been performed over 250 times across Canada. Tracey Power, a BC born and bred actor, playwright, and director, created and wrote the play, which has received an Ovation Awards for “Outstanding Ensemble Production” and for “Outstanding Director,” along with nominations from the Jessie Richardson Theatre Award, Calgary Theatre Critics’ Award, and Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award. The show became known as “the make-out show” as attendees were often caught cuddled up—let’s say they were inspired by Cohen’s music.
In the play’s program, Donna Spencer, Firehall Arts Centre’s artistic director, explains why the play was revived seven years after its debut.
“When he passed away in 2016, Tracey [Power] came to my office where we shared the grief of his loss as many, many others were doing at the same time,” she said. “His words and music have touched so many and been interpreted around the globe by countless numbers of artists but Tracey and Steve’s [musical director] work holds a special place for Vancouver audiences. After over 250 performances including tours around Canada, it seemed only natural for this wonderful and well-loved production to be part of the Firehall’s 35th anniversary season. It was, also, a way in which we could honour Mr. Cohen, himself, and say thank you.”
It’s a fitting tribute, and an amazing experience to attend a show like this in such a small venue—the auditorium only seats about 100 people maximum. The intimacy of the venue means the audience actually gets to feel the music played on stage, with the actors only metres away from them. Benjamin Elliot, an original cast member, is absolutely dazzling and steals the show as the writer’s personal bellhop. The show’s female performers, Marlene Ginader, Kayla Nickel, and Krystle Don Santos, all have beautiful, rich voices which shine together and on their own. The writer, personified by Adrian Glynn McMorran, is played with powerful subtlety.
While the show only runs until April 21, the Firehall Arts Centre is always putting on great shows, so make sure to check out what they have coming up!