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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Grand Hotel, the Musical
By Laura Hitchcock
Grand Hotel, The Musical based on Vicki Baum's 1928 novel, has the Berlin setting and cynicism of Cabaret and a human poignance all its own. Luther Davis's book reflects that, although the musical genre's upbeat ending convention is honored by way of a a paean to the birth of his son by a minor character.
Peter Schneider, resuming his directing career after a 20-year hiatus producing such spectacles as The Lion King and Aida for Disney, proves he hasn't forgotten a thing. His special gift is the visual quality he gives to the production on the Colony Theatre's smallish stage, placing actors on balconies and letting one devastating dance duo, Cate Caplin and Gary Franco, represent an entire chorus line.
The Baum novel became a movie starring John Barrymore, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford in 1932 and has had other incarnations. The present one wone five Tonys in its 1989 Broadway debut.
The 90-minute production follows six guests at the Grand Hotel: a handsome impoverished Baron (Robert J. Townsend) turned thief but, unlike Cary Grant, too noble to make a success of it; an aging ballerina (Cynthia Beckert), trapped by her ego until freed by love; a dying Jewish businessman (Jason Graae), looking for something to finally illuminate what's left of his life; a pretty secretary (Beth Malone) who wants to be a Hollywood star; a bankrupt businessman (Dink O'Neal) who falls further into corruption; and a doctor (Michael McCarty), who serves as a Greek chorus.
The play's warm comic heart beats in Graae's performance as the dying businessman Otto Kringelein and Graae never misses a beat. Neither does Robert J. Townsend, whose immaculate tenor is remarkable in its consistency and tone, and never fails in its breathtaking effect. He flirts with the pretty secretary Flaemmchen, appealingly played by Beth Malone, but falls in love at first sight with the much-older ballerina Elizaveta. Cynthia Beckert has the wonderful look of Russian ballerinas playing The Dying Swan but has no lines in this libretto that rise above the level of depressed self-absorption. Unfortunately, the graceful Beckert who does justice to the minimal swirling steps of her dance, doesn't find a level of acting that would project what the script doesn't give her.
Dink O'Neal makes a villainous General Director Preysing and Michael McCarty portrays the Doctor with great authority and vocal panache. Dana Reynolds plays Raffaela, the Ballerina's maid, who cherishes a lifelong passion for the woman she would make her mistress in more ways than one, and sings her wistful ballads "Twenty Two Years" and "What She Needs" with the understated power of a lifelong devotion. The Jimmys, a pair of bellboys who do dance tap routines that could have been written for The Nicholas Brothers, are played with skill and verve by Chris Payne Dupre and Mike Irizarry. Alex Miller has the youthful charm and gorgeous voice to bring thrilling satisfaction to the show's final ballad
The music and lyrics have special interest because they're by Robert Wright and George Forrest, best known for Kismet. Anyone familiar with that score can readily differentiate the music by Borodin from the words by Wright and Forrest, who formed Borodin's themes into the familiar Kismet score. Grand Hotel, The Musical is a pure example of Wright and Forrest's work and has a lush romantic quality (though neither is Borodin) and a poetic flair for lyrics.
"Love Can't Happen", beautifully sung by the Baron to the Ballerina, is the show's great ballad. "We'll Take A Glass Together" is the best choral ensemble. In "Maybe My Baby Loves Me", The Jimmys strut their stuff with high enjoyment and technical expertise. "Table With A View", Otto's great number, perhaps most poignantly embodies the dream a luxury hotel represents to the common man.
It’s a timeless view but Grand Hotel”is very much of its time, and sadly ours, in Preysing’s corruption, in the young Baron driven to desperation by living beyond his means, in the ballerina whose years rob her of her career. When Flaemmchen, the pregnant Hollywood wannabe, accepts the dying Otto's invitation to Paris, cynical 1920s Berlin gets a Hollywood ending.
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