The Grandest of Hotels: Pondering a Revival of Grand Hotel
With the announcement by Encores! that Grand Hotel will be a part of their 2018 season, it has the wheels of my brain turning about a possible Broadway revival of this magnificent, but challenging, piece of musical theatre. It has been almost three decades since Grand Hotel premiered on Broadway. That production was, in itself, a reimagining of a failed attempt to musicalize Vicki Baum’s 1928 novel (and subsequent 1932 film) called At the Grand (1958). That version of the show featured a score by Robert Wright and George Forrest, with a book by Luther David. Many of those songs and parts of the book made it into the 1989 Broadway production of Grand Hotel which would garner many Tony Awards and run for 1,017 performances.
Grand Hotel is set in Berlin in the 1920s, at a luxury establishment where guests come and go. The story focuses on six guests: Baron Felix Von Gaigern, a nobleman who has lost all his money; Elizaveta Grushinskaya, a fading ballerina on her farewell tour; Raffaela Ottanio her overly devoted companion, Hermann Preysing; a businessman with dubious methods for making money, Frieda Flamm (Flaemmchen); a pregnant typist who wants to become a Hollywood star; and Otto Kringelien, a Jewish bookkeeper who is dying. For each guest, time is running-out, and, under the watchful eye of the heavily-drugged Dr. Otternschlag, their uncertain destinies spiral toward their dicey conclusions. All the action unfolds in a twenty-four-hour period.
Anyone who saw the original Broadway production was instantly hypnotized by the glorious double-decker set, opulently designed by Tony Walton. Santo Loquasto’s costumes were of tailored luxuriousness, rich with color and elegance. Jules Fisher’s lighting designs were evocative, playing equally with pools of amber warmth and uneasy wells of shadow. The performers were universally wonderful, with standout working coming from Jane Krakowski as Flaemmchen, and a heartbreakingly palpable Tony turn by Michael Jeter as Otto Kringelien. Maury Yeston’s additional song for the show melded beautifully with the work of Wright and Forrest, rich with grandeur and emotion. It was a magical show that kept you spellbound from beginning to end.
The real hero of the production, and the reason why the musical will be a challenge to revive, is the masterful direction and choreography of Tommy Tune. Incorporating ballroom dance such as the waltz, the foxtrot, the tango, as well as the Charleston and more traditional musical theatre styles, Grand Hotel seamlessly moved, swayed and spun from one scene to the next, the dance and the urgency of the plot never ceasing. This was Tommy Tune at his best: refined, clever, inventive, and mysterious. Grand Hotel is the apex of his amazing career.
A revival of Grand Hotel would need a director-choreographer of Tune’s caliber to give the show the staging and visual through line that it deserves. Or, perhaps the pairing of an amazing director and inventive choreographer who could work in tandem to create that seamless, driving force that pushes Grand Hotel toward its dizzying conclusion would also do the trick. Here are some talented artists of today’s theatre and dance world who I would like to see tackles Grand Hotel.
Director: Diane Paulus, Choreography by Derek Hough
Diane Paulus has proven, time and again, that she is an adept musical theatre director, especially where challenging pieces are concerned. Her work on the Broadway revivals of Hair and Pippin certainly make an argument for her ability to create seamless, high-energy shows cultivated from complex material. Pairing her with Derek Hough of TV’s Dancing with the Stars would be a stroke of genius. Hough is a master of telling stories with ballroom dance, and he has also performed in his share of musical theatre (particularly in London). He would ignite Grand Hotel with his creative energy, and she would guide his work with her expert judgment and magical way of imagining theatre.
Direction and Choreography by Graciela Daniele
When you are looking for a well-regarded and infinitely talented director-choreographer, there is no need to look further than Graciela Daniele. Her work balancing both aspects of staging and dance, particularly her explosively joyous and earnest work on the original Once on This Island and her more refined, passionate rendering of urgency in Marie Christine, make her a good fit for a show like Grand Hotel. Even when she is just choreographing musicals like The Visit, Ragtime, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, her understanding of how movement needs to grow organically out of the story and characters makes her movement an event.
Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman
Susan Stroman has a way of really looking at the overall picture of a musical and keeping the staging and dance of one piece. It just all fits together so beautifully. Sometimes her choreography can be a bit gimmicky and prop-centric, such as her work on Crazy for You and The Producers (where it worked) and on Young Frankenstein and Big (where it did not). Stroman excels when she has a strong story to work with, and her talents soared on musicals like Show Boat, Happiness, and The Scottsboro Boys. Grand Hotel would fit nicely in that list and Stroman would surely bring a resume of expertise working on dance-heavy musicals to the table.
Direction by Michael Arden and Choreography by Spencer Liff
If only for their masterful interpretation of Spring Awakening with the Deaf West Theatre, it would be interesting to see how Michael Arden and Spencer Liff would handle an intricate musical like Grand Hotel. They’ve proven their ability to think outside of the box and a Grand Hotel revival would require imagination and inventiveness. Liff also kept the energy moving for the recent revival of Falsettos, but never let the movement overshadow the emotional gravitas of the piece. This pairing of young energy might be just what Grand Hotel needs in a new production.
Direction and Choreography by Kathleen Marshall
don’t think I have ever been more impressed with a director-choreographer’s ability to take a mediocre show and turn it into an event like Kathleen Marshall did with the revival of Wonderful Town. She mined possibilities from that show I never thought possible. She’s a strong director-choreographer, story-driven in both her staging and dance. Her work on the recent revivals of Anything Goes and The Pajama Game bears witness to her ability to breathe new life into tried and true (though sometimes tired) properties. If she can work that kind of magic the classics, imagine what she can do with an under-revived show like Grand Hotel.