Come begin in old Berlin

GRAND HOTEL, The Musical

Book by Luther Davis
Songs by Robert Wright and George Forrest
Directed by Evan Ross
Gallery Players, 199 14th St., Brooklyn ((718) 595-0547)
Equity showcase (closes March 5)
Review by David Mackler

Grand Hotel, The Musical made it to Broadway only after it acquired the services of Tommy Tune as godfather and midwife (and picked up some additional songs by Maury Yeston). It had problems - chiefly a lumpy book whose reach exceeded its grasp, which shortchanged some of the characters. Gallery Players couldn't overcome these built-in flaws, but director Evan Ross put together quite a lively production that acknowledged the good that Tune wrought but was very often strong enough to be celebrated in its own right.

The plot is familiar, even if you've never seen or read any version. Set in Berlin in 1928, it is post-crash and pre-Hitler (it is quite easy to see it as a prequel to Cabaret.) Everyone needs money, is longing for something, or is desperately unhappy. (Not for nothing did Forbidden Broadway title its tribute Grim Hotel.) Ross and choreographer Juliana Fazzio used the wide stage extremely well - often there were two or three things going on at once, but nothing upstaged anything else, and all the activity was clear.

Not all the scenes worked, and not all the acting was up to the best here, but a slow scene was quickly supplanted by a terrific number, and because the show was played without intermission (as on Broadway), actors who started out shaky got better, and those who began well got terrific. The music, by Wright, Forrest, and Yeston, which is full of the outsized emotions of the plot, is very good and nearly continuous. A special commendation to musical director Peter Yarin, who made his small band sound lush and full.

As the aging ballerina Grushinskaya and the destitute Baron, Lina Sorenson and Arthur Francesco had to deal with the least believable and most overwrought characters. Sorenson was too young, but her bluff hid an appealing vulnerability, and Francesco used his Broadway-style belt to best effect in his final tortured solo. Erica Kane as Flaemmchen and Jim Ferris as Kringelein were more fortunate to be playing abundantly sympathetic characters (theirs are perhaps the only characters whose dreams, albeit with a dose of reality, are realized), but both were also terrific. Ferris too was too young (and occasionally too frantic), but his pain and joy were right there every minute. Kane had just the right doll-like innocence mixed with an unshakeable determination. They were also superb singers.

Claudia Rose Golde made an extremely strong impression as Grushinskaya's devoted Rafaella, Sebastian Arcelus was a moving desk clerk preoccupied with his wife about to give birth, and Erich James Polley and Larry S. Hines did some terrific singing and dancing as the Jimmys. Michael Buscemi as the businessman Preysing was better at desperation than bravado, Steven E. Baker was cruel but curiously unthreatening as the Grand Concierge, and Harley Diamond struggled with the thankless role of the narrator, the grimmest of all. ("People come, people go, nothing ever happens....")

The production was lucky in an outstanding chorus/dance troupe and supporting cast, consisting of Julie Toritorici, Casey Johnson, Skip Moore, David Reinsert, Andrea Katsay, Liz Pickering, Jenna Zablock, James J. Martinelli, Aly Wirth, Hugh Mack "Huck" Dill, Andrew Krawetz, Matthew Morse, Patrick L. Salazar, and Joe Witham. Mary A. Wong designed the luxuriant and beautifully effective costumes and Robert Cangemi the evocative lighting. Derek Haas's setting was only suggestive - it had to be when a stageful of characters was about to come dancing on at any moment.

Box Score:

Book: 1
Music/Lyrics: 2
Directing: 2
Choreography : 2
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 David Mackler