Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen
Citadel Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Jan. 13, 2016 to Jan. 24, 2016

Review by GRAHAM HICKS

Chelsea Hotel is an intriguing concept – a unique theatrical rendering/interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s considerable canon of songs, back-to-back  for 90 minutes of musical theatre.

On the Edmonton pride side, creator/director Tracey Power has recently re-located back to Edmonton where she graduated, some years ago, from the Grant MacEwan Theatre Arts program.  Citadel Artistic Associate James MacDonald served as the show’s dramaturge (theatrical consultant) before it embarked on its current cross-country tour.

It’s an intriguing concept … that while most pleasant and creative, doesn’t really work.

Chelsea Hotel occupies a no-man middle ground.  Either this show should be blown up Cirque de Soleil style and go to Vegas for a two-year run, or it should be pared down to its essential Leonard Cohen minimalism, as an intimate, clean, elegant affair.  

The set is a room in the Chelsea Hotel – a Leonard Cohen song reference -  in an abstract, yet down to earth, atmosphere. 

The entire lyrical content of the show, all sung, is from Leonard Cohen songs, with the multi-disciplined performers switching instruments with each song, all singing lead or back-ups (though Jonathan Gould most often assumed the Cohen persona), all dancing and acting out the lyrics.

It’s all very cute, but there are problems from the get-go.  There is no plot.  Cohen, for all his brilliance, is an unique, rather slow singer. His talent in his writing and nuance, in understatement and unique phrasings where the pauses are as important as the music. 
This show too often tries to put Cohen into an up-tempo barn dance. Never the twain shall meet. 

Power tries to lighten up Cohen by having the three female characters do much do-wop, sha-na-na style dancing and it just doesn’t work.  These lovely ladies are multi-faceted musical instrumentalists first, singers second, actors third, and dancers a distant fourth. Therefore the dancing isn’t strong and doesn’t have much to do with Cohen’s content or musical style.  They dance in order to have something to do.

It seemed to me that the cast, other than the lead singer for each song, was always searching about, looking for something to do. 

The music, when left alone to be Leonard Cohen and not gussied up with the need to entertain, was most enjoyable.  Certainly the audience was there to hear Suzanne, So Long Marianne, First We Take Manhattan, Bird on a Wire, Famous Blue Raincoat, and the huge resurrection in the past five years of Cohen’s masterpiece Hallelujah, written and first released by him some 30 years ago.  

A pleasant evening of Leonard Cohen songs, getting quite boring by the end. As I write this review, 15 hours after the fact, the show is rapidly slipping from my mind.