Rejoice, for the era of the musical is not over. Director Tracey Power is a worthy successor in modernizing the genre and breathing fresh life into the songs of Leonard Cohen.
Chelsea Hotel combines a twisted Burton-esque aesthetic with pitch-perfect singing, complex performances, and a whole lot of heart. I’ve never seen a small-scale musical succeed to this caliber, where all six performers intermix different roles and musical instruments with the familiarity of old lovers. And lovers, both new and jilted, are at the core of much of Cohen’s work.
I originally didn’t want to attend this play. Cohen wasn’t my generation’s music, and I didn’t find his work that accessible. I was hooked from the opening act, transfixed into the production’s haunting and oddly beautiful world. Chelsea Hotel makes these songs accessible for new audiences and Cohen aficionados, giving each song a new interpretation ranging from hard rock to showtunes, while maintaining a connection to the source material.
I’ve always thought that musicals were one of the hardest genres to perform, actors working double time in sketching out rich narratives while breaking into song. All six actors gave me fully realized people without me ever knowing their names or back stories. It came out in every expression, every inflection, every interaction with another.
There was a chemistry alive in the room, all set to the powerful ‘maybes’ within Cohen’s lyrics. They had the power for heartbreaking harmonies of love lost one moment, and stirring vindictive rock the next. It stirred me to tears without truly understanding why, and surged the audience to its feet for a well-deserved standing ovation.
I loved it. Absolutely. Loved it. The spectacle, the actors, the pitch-perfect harmonies demonstrated how far this genre can succeed with the right touch. It was the first time this season where I was gripped to the edge of my seat for the full performance, not caring how much time went by. Two hours was much too short for this gem.
It was also the first time a musical has stirred me to hungrily scour Grooveshark for Cohen’s originals. I wanted to get all of the in-jokes, the ah-hah nods, the personal history mixed into Chelsea Hotel. The performance took a figure off the musical pedestal and personally moved me to understand Cohen’s greatness while empathizing with his humanity.
Chelsea Hotel plays at the Firehall Arts Centre until March 29. Advanced tickets here.
Photo Credit: David Cooper.