By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
When “Grand Hotel” opened on Broadway in 1989 after several aborted tries to make it a hit, Broadway choreographer and star Tommy Tune’s unique vision made it work through superb dancing and direction. However, for his trouble, it was at that time hailed as a triumph of stagecraft over substance. Well, I suggest you may want to take a look at what director Eric Schaeffer is doing with this show in 2019. He has transformed it into a sumptuous, lavish looking and sounding show, but, and this is a big but, it’s now a production with real substance as well as impeccable style!
“Grand Hotel, the Musical” is an adaptation of Vicki Baum’s 1929 novel about Weimar era Berlin, and of the 1932 film “Grand Hotel” starring Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. This is the movie in which Greta Garbo famously spoke the words, “I vant to be alone.” It’s a microcosm of the world between two wars. At the outset you hear and see a multitude of characters and overlapping stories. But when you realize you are in 1928 Berlin and the tenor of the times is difficult at best due to the failing economy and the coming New York Stock Exchange crash, suddenly the six different stories which take place over one weekend begin to make sense and the actors playing these parts take on special gravitas.
My takeaway: this production is a triumph with an absolutely first rate cast! All the performers make their characters deeply sympathetic, beginning with the seriously ill Otto Kringelein, played by the irrepressible triple threat, Bobby Smith. Bobby as Otto shows us how to truly live life (even approaching the end) fully with dignity and joy. Natascia Diaz as Elizaveta Grushinskaya, the aging prima ballerina (just wait until you see her on point looking every inch a ballerina!) and Nkrumah Gatling as the Baron Felix von Gaigern, both masterfully inhabit their roles and their singing is simply gorgeous, whether alone or together! Diaz’s “Bonjour Amour” is so beautiful, you won’t believe it, and Nkrumah’s and Natascia’s ‘Love Can’t Happen” will thrill your every fiber and move you to tears!
Additionally, I want give shout outs to Lawrence Redmon who is totally convincing as the menacing morphine-addicted Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag, and who acts as the narrator, as well as the fabulous dancing “Jimmys” (Ian Anthony Coleman as Jimmy 1 and Solomon Parker III as Jimmy 2), handsome in their stunning black and white art deco jackets. The production takes on a high sheen when these young men take the stage. But wait, Flaemmchen, the ingénue and movie actress wannabe, is played adorably by Nicki Elledge who was a marvelous Anne in Signature’s “Little Night Music” in 2017. Her “Who Couldn’t Dance with You”, sung and danced with Bobby’s Otto Kringelien will make you want to get up and dance. Grushinskaya’s assistant, Raffaela, (Crystal Mosser) who is also, sadly, in love with her boss, has a lovely mezzo voice, a commanding presence and knocks “How Can I Tell Her” out of the park.
As I mentioned previously, Eric Schaeffer, Signature Theatre’s Co-founder and Artistic Director, directed this production. Working with the book by Luther Davis, music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, and additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, it shows his masterful taste and touch. I must also say that the casting in this show is impeccable. Kelly Crandall D’Amboise knows her business! She also choreographed the show with 18 cast members in almost constant elegant motion!
But the set, OMG, the set by Paul Tate Depoo III is fabulous, from the lighted marble inlaid floors to the early 1900’s telephone receivers being flown in and out for hotel lobby phone calls, to the stunning pair of stair cases and the Erté sculpture on the Reception Desk–perfect. And the lighting by Colin K. Bills and sound design by Ryan Hickey add mightily to the luxurious look and our enjoyment of this beautiful production. But Robert Perdziola’s costume designs made me fairly swoon with delight. Grushinskaya’s grey fox fur cape and suit and that hat with the jaunty feather—to die for! And the men’s tailor made suits are period perfect! The music, though, is probably the most critical element to the success of this show and it soars with Evan Rees conducting and Music Direction by Jon Kalbfleisch.
I know you’ve heard me say/write this before, but this stunning production of “Grand Hotel” at Signature Theatre is a “must see”! (And they’re not paying me to say that either!)
Entire Cast: Ian Anthony Coleman, Natascia Diaz, Nicki Elledge, Nkrumah Gatling, Ben Gunderson, Vincent Kempski, Gregory Maheu, Kevin McAllister, Nicholas McDonough, Da’Von T. Moody, Crystal Mosser, Katie Mariko Murray, Alicia Osborn, Solomon Parker III, Lawrence Redmond, Maria Rizzo, Bobby Smith, Jillian Wessel
Performance and Ticket information: Running time for this show is 1:50 minutes with no intermission. “Grand Hotel, the Musical” runs now through May 19, 2019 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA. For more information and/or tickets call 703-820-9771 or visit SigTheatre.org.