Firehall Arts Centre

Chelsea Hotel by Tracey Power

Dates and Venue 28 September - 3 November 3 2012, 8pm Tues – Fri (5pm & 9pm Saturdays, 2pm Sun matinees, 1pm Wed matinees) | Firehall Arts Centre

Reviewer Roger Wayne Eberle

Critically acclaimed Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Adrian Glynn McMorran performs the lead role in Chelsea Hotel, a musical montage which he wrote that takes theatre-goers on an interpretive journey through some of Leonard Cohen’s ‘secret life’.

Unfortunately, Cohen’s later albums—most notably his Ten New Songs album—are not covered at all, with the only direct allusion to it being one of the play’s one-liners: “Love went on and on until it reached an open door, and then love itself was gone.” This play explores the ironic aftermath of what happens when Love Itself leaves you, bereft, without the afterglow.

Chelsea Hotel is mostly a medley of Cohen’s earlier songs, strung together to complete a rather loosely organized angst-ridden narrative about the effects of alienation and isolation as by-products of the writing process.

In a time long before, when Cohen travelled the rivers dark into Babylon to learn the ways of Boogie Street with the Sisters of Mercy, he spent a lifetime for a few days holed up in a hotel trying to write, and the play is an enactment of Cohen’s experience of that hotel’s motto: ‘It is written on the walls of this hotel; to get to heaven, you have to go through hell.’

For many who intend to attend Leonard Cohen’s live concert later this year, Chelsea Hotel holds the promise of the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of a teaser performance that encapsulates a sultry sensuality and an intelligent emotional intensity: just two dimensions of Cohen’s elusive persona.

All too often, though, the ‘unique’ renditions of mystical masterpieces like Joan of Arc or Suzanne or Famous Blue Raincoat devolve into banal balladry with a tawdry twist of mundane melody-making artistry. The early Cohen is still there to be sure, but regardless of how much McMorran tries to let Cohen’s work speak for itself, much of its spiritual incarnation is subsumed in carnal creations of the writer’s mind.

What little story there is to the piece comes through most clearly in the little sense of peace there is in the story arising from Tonight Will Be Fine, the singularly compelling number that McMorran performs just before the intermission. Tonight Will Be Fine is rendered in wonderfully tender and delicate tones, so that even the ironic afterthought “for a while” closure comes off like a prayer.

All the blustery bravado of First We Take Manhattan, all the amusing showmanship of Sisters of Mercy and all the steamy innuendo of I’m Your Man offer good visual vignettes leading with just a touch of bathos towards the crass cacophonous emotionally-overwrought send-up performance of Hallelujah near the end of Chelsea Hotel. Tonight will be fine, for a while. A wily line, indeed.

The walls of Chelsea Hotel may be paper-thin, but you don’t have to listen very hard to discern the passionate persuasion in the performances, along with the tragic flaws inherent in their subject. Everybody Knows. Everybody knows that the measure of a man is in his legacy. Chelsea Hotel may not measure up to everybody’s expectations. But as far as musical theatre goes, you can’t beat it with a yardstick down on Boogie Street. Especially when you touch down in the end zone.

© 2012 Roger Wayne Eberle