Monday, August 06, 2018

"Grand Hotel' a minor musical treat at The Shaw

“The great advantage of a hotel is that it’s a refuge from home (G. Bernard Shaw)

“Grand Hotel, Berlin. Always the same – people come, people go – One life ends while another begins – one heart breaks while another beats faster – one man goes to jail while another goes to Paris – always the same. ... I'll stay – one more day."  Thus, one of the lead characters in the Luther Davis (book) and Robert Wright (music and lyrics) conceived “Grand Hotel, The Musical” summarizes life in the center-piece of the musical.

Based on Vicki Baum’s novel and play, “Menschen im Hotel” (“People in a Hotel”) and the 1932 feature film, the story focuses on a 1928 weekend in the elegant facility.  A weekend in which a multitude of guests come and go in pleasure, frustration and chaos.

The show was Broadway bound in 1958, but bad reviews out of town, and the illness of one of the lead actors, caused the New York opening to be cancelled.

Thirty years later, much due to the creative efforts of Tommy Tune, who demanded new songs and a story rewrite, the show’s 1989 production received 12 Tony Award nominations, including a well-deserved one for direction and choreography for Tune.  It became one of the select group of Broadway shows to top 1,000 performance on the Great White Way.

It’s 1928.  The roaring ‘20s are at its height.  Decadence, outrageous extravagance, gangsters, high living and low morals, jazz and uninhibited dancing are the vogue.  

Using a series of overlapping tales, the plot showcases “a fading prima ballerina; a fatally ill Jewish bookkeeper, who wants to spend his final days living in luxury; a young, handsome, but destitute Baron; a cynical doctor; an honest businessman gone bad, and a typist dreaming of Hollywood success.”

Lots of plot twists and turns are in high gear.   A morphine addict as a result of his World War I injury, loosely narrates as the front desk clerk waits for the birth of his son, a young good-looking and broke Baron uses his charisma to charm the women while trying to get out of the clutches of a gangster, a past her prime prima ballerina is scheduled to make her last attempt at pleasing an audience, her dresser tries to hide her love-feelings for the dancer, a fatally ill bookkeeper tries to live a weekend of splendor, a textile mill manager tries to fake his way through an ill-conceived business deal, and . . . . . .

The production, under the directorship of Eda Holmes, gets what it can from the material.  Parker Esse’s choreography is creative and era correct.  The vocals are good.  The acting fits the material.

Deborah Hay is diva correct as the ballerina, matinee-idol handsome James Daly charms as Baron von Gaigern, Michael Therriault is appealing as Otto Kringelein, Vanessa Sears is character correct as Flaemmchen.

The music, which is continuous throughout the show, is well interpreted by Paul Sportelli and his orchestra.  The show’s set is well-designed by Judith Bowden.

Capsule judgment: “Grand Hotel, the Musical” is a pleasant evening of theater.  The plot is overdrawn, unrealistic, and typical of musicals where dance, singing and melodrama reign.  This is a musical, like “42nd Street” and “Anything Goes,” filled with dancing and meaningless dialogue and shtick.