Video "A visit to Leonard Cohen's Chelsea Hotel": http://youtu.be/SymmcScMBOs
Cohen's music inspires Power
By Stuart Derdeyn, The Province February 6, 2012
Leonard Cohen's musical musings are at the heart of Tracey Power's new play
Photograph by: Handout photo, The Province
All of us at times have listened to lyrics and imagined a scene playing itself out to them. Put enough of those moments together and a story is created.
Playwright and actor Tracey Power did just that, utilizing Leonard Cohen’s music to spin a yarn about a writer seeking inspiration — one visited by past muses and intent on exploring new possibilities ¬— in her new show Chelsea Hotel.
No other text is used in the performance save the acclaimed Montreal lyricist’s poetry being performed by the six-member cast, which includes Lauren Bowler and Rachel Aberle (as the sisters of mercy), Marlene Ginader (the woman), Benjamin Elliott (the bellhop), Steve Charles (the sideman) and Adrian Glynn McMorran (the writer).
Chelsea Hotel isn’t the first musically based play from Power, whose Back to You, the Life and Music of Lucille Starr looked at an iconic Canadian country singer from the 1950s.
The new work had its origins in a music and movement “period piece” without words called “The Accordion” set in Vienna in the ’20s. As it developed, Power started considering using music with lyrics in a full length project.
“I never got past Leonard Cohen when I considered that,” says Power. “His storytelling ability, his imagery, his beautiful text and his music all seemed to fit my story of the writer who has lost his voice. There are about 30 of Cohen’s songs in the show, sometimes we use three minutes, other times only 30 seconds.”
Working with cast member Charles, who arranged the music throughout, the pair set about finding the right songs to carry forward the storyline.
It proved challenging as some of the classic Cohen material just didn’t fit and they knew there would be people turning up expecting to hear certain songs in the mix. A balance between the paramount importance of the show and the audience’s desires was finally struck.
“I have been a fan of his for a decade or longer and I still found myself discovering so much material that I didn’t know previously.
“I also read all of his books and a lot of his poetry to come up with how to tell the story using entirely his own words and none of my own,” says Power.
So unlike Abba’s Mamma Mia!, Chelsea Hotel is not a jukebox musical where songs that suit the script are inserted into parts of the narrative.
If “I’m Your Man” turns up, it is for the purpose of character development. There are also aspects of silent films in the show, which is a music, dance and theatre hybrid that is “really different.”
Power has arranged everything from the actors’ voices to their instrumental skills to be “all action based interpretation.”
And as to whether Powers’ turn in the recent Vancouver Playhouse production of La Cage Aux Folles influenced any of the dance in Chelsea Hotel, she says no. Yet it’s a good bet some of the feather boa action that found its way into the work might have roots in Jean Poiret’s campy romp.
Next up for the playwright is a tour to Alberta singing and dancing in the Alberta tour of the Toronto play Ubuntu.
Chelsea Hotel: The Words and Music of Leonard Cohen
Where: Firehall Arts Centre, 280 E. Cordova St.
When: Wednesday-March 3, at 8 p.m.; Weekend matinees at 2 p.m., Wednesday matinees at 1 p.m.
Tickets: $31 at firehallartscentre.ca or 604-689-0926