At the Firehall Arts Centre until March 3
Tickets: 604-689-0926, firehallartscentre.ca
One acoustic guitar, two electric guitars, one violin, one cello, three kazoos, one banjo, one ukulele, one bass, one accordion, one keyboard and a set of drums. Six performers. One minute Rachel Aberle and Lauren Bowler are belting out a song and the next, Aberle sits astride the cello and Bowler has moved over to the keyboard; instruments are passed back and forth between performers like canapés at a wedding reception. Conceived and directed by Tracey Power, there’s a ton of talent in this Firehall Arts Centre production of Chelsea Hotel, an evening of Leonard Cohen songs with a through-line of lovers crumpled up and tossed aside like so many first drafts.
Adrian Glynn McMorran is The Writer, hunched over his desk in his Chelsea Hotel room that set designer Marshall McMahen almost obliterates with scrunched up paper. It’s probably “four in the morning/the end of December,” as the song goes, when The Writer, working at his notebook with a bottle of scotch at hand, is visited by muses: two Sisters of Mercy (Aberle and Bowler) and three whiteface, clown- like yet slightly sinister characters: The Bellhop (Benjamin Elliott), The Woman (beguiling Marlene Ginader) and Sideman (Steve Charles).
Ex-lovers drift through Cohen’s songs that come thick and fast in a continuous stream. Some songs are “rocked out” and at least one (“I’m Your Man”) pokes fun at Cohen by being sung by women.
I was sent hurtling back to my 30s when I, like many women in Canada, fell in love with Leonard Cohen. An almost overwhelming nostalgia for time past grabbed me but was sent packing by Bowler’s bracing call-to-arms, “First We Take Manhattan,” which, according to Cohen, he doesn’t really understand either but, as he said, “It sounds good.”
Chelsea Hotel doesn’t just sound good; it sounds—and looks—great.