PICKSINSIX Review: GRAND HOTEL
"WE’LL TAKE A GLASS TOGETHER!"
If only the walls could talk … Berlin. 1928. The situation is desperate just beyond the revolving door of the Grand Hotel. “People come and people go ... but time is running out” for the current guests we are about to meet whose lives intersect on one fateful night. If only the walls could talk what stories they would tell. For the rest of us, there is Kokandy’s stirring new staging of Grand Hotel, the four-time Tony Award-winning musical of love, mayhem and murder playing now at Theater Wit.
What you need to know … ground-breaking for its time at just over 110 minutes in one-act, Grand Hotel received 12 Tony nominations, winning five including Best Director and Best Choreographer for Tommy Tune and Best Performance by a Featured Actor for Michael Jetter. The Robert Wright/George Forrest score, with additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, is a continuous combination of music and dance.
A fast-paced, non-stop gem … In the expert hands of director John D. Glover with Musical Director Aaron Benham and Choreographer Brenda Didier, Kokandy’s Grand Hotel is a fast-paced, non-stop gem. The broadsheet program lists nearly two dozen in the cast. Several of the high-stepping dance numbers had over twenty onstage - no small feat of traffic control by the seasoned Didier to pull off so marvelously in Wit’s Theater One.
The players … the story unfolds with Colonel Doctor(Jerry Miller) in the lobby of the Grand Hotel, joined by Preysing(Jeremy Trager), whose manufacturing operation is failing; Flaemmchen(Leryn Turlington), a young typist with Hollywood ambitions; Otto Kringelein(Jonathan Schwart), a wealthy and seriously ill accountant; Baron Felix Von Gaigern(Erik Dohner), the dashing (and busted) bon vivant; and, Elizaveta Grushinskaya(Michelle Jasso), a prima ballerina trying desperately to turn back the clock and attended by her loyal companion Raefella(Liz Norton). While Elizaveta reluctantly prepares for the ballet, Flaemmche is falling head over heels for the Baron. Coerced into a plan to steal Elizaveta’s necklace to pay off his debt, things heat up in the boudoir for the Baron when Elizaveta returns. Meanwhile, with her options dwindling, Flaemmche makes an ill-fated decision to turn her attention to Preysing, who is now facing ruin and will say anything to have her. Along the way, and at the heart of the story, is the delightful interplay between the pragmatic Kringelein, the Jimmy's - Darren Patin and Travis Auston Wright - and all of the others at the hotel.
So much to see and hear … the richly appointed Jeffrey D. Kmiec set, with lighting by Alexander Ridgers and costume designs by John Nasca perfectly evoke the period. There is so much to see and hear thanks to the superb work of music director/pianist/conductor Aaron Benham teaming with Elena Spiegel and Tony Scandora. The pace and flow make this a surprisingly tuneful score including the company opener “At the Grand Hotel” … the Jimmy's (Darren Patin and Travis Auston Wright) snappy “Maybe My Baby Loves Me” … Jasso’s poignant “Fire and Ice” ... the charming Turlington’s “l Want To Go To Hollywood”… Dohner, Turlington, and Schwart in “Who Couldn’t Dance With You” … “Love Can’t Happen” … and the show-stopping number for Schwart, Dohner and the company in “We’ll Take A Glass Together”
Turning point … looking through the historical lens to Vicky Baum’s 1928 play and novel Menschen im Hotel, the source material for the 1932 Garbo film, and all that followed, it may seem obvious that the encounters of these characters in a lavish hotel in Berlin serve as a turning point of the inner war years. What may not be readily apparent is that this compelling and artfully staged production allows us to more fully understand the inevitable outcome as if we are experiencing it for the first time - a future that lays in wait just outside the Grand Hotel's revolving door.