Theatre 20’s production of Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen may not offer you what you expect, though who doesn’t want a surprise?
Upon walking into the theatre, the setting captures you, sending you straight into Cohen's world. There are mounds (and I mean mounds) of crumpled paper scattered around the dreary-looking hotel room, which we later find out is the Chelsea Hotel. Aside from the guitar at stage left and the schizophrenic writings dispersed across the wall, it is clear that this is the small hovel of a distressed artist at work.
The costume design is definitely an aspect of this show that remained etched in my mind as I left the theatre. Barbara Clayden’s Beckett-esque white face really gives life to the inner demons on stage and provides the ensemble with a sense of unity.
Every performer in the ensemble has a delightful sense of manic energy that really melds well with the overall theme of the piece: unrest within oneself. With that in mind, I’d say the performer that particularly stuck out to me was Ben Elliott as the lead. He is like a devil sitting on Cohen’s shoulder as he conducts and orchestrates the insanity contained within the hotel room.
All in all, the show is an interesting exploration of Leonard Cohen’s past works, though if you are looking for a traditional rendition of his “Best Of” songbook, this may not be your cup of tea. However, if you are looking for a step into the manic dwelling of the sleepless poet, then this show will not leave you disappointed.
Directed by Tracey Power, Chelsea Hotel runs at Theatre Passe Muraille until Feb. 21. For more information visit http://www.theatre20.com.