Arlington’s Signature Theater transports us to 1928 Berlin, inside the lives of a disparate group of travelers who are staying for a time in the elegant and prestigious Grand Hotel. Appearances are deceiving. Behind the expensive jewelry, furs, and suits (excellent costume design by Robert Perdziola), these men and women are on the verge of losing everything, their businesses, their careers, even their lives. A focus on income inequality, jitters over a shaky stock market, and an incident of sexual assault, emphasize that certain issues have a way of repeating themselves.
Based on the 1929 novel by Vicki Baum, Grand Hotel was made into a 1932 film starring Greta Garbo and John Barrymore and won an Oscar for Best Film. The 1989 musical won five Tonys, including two for Tommy Tune for direction and choreography. In 2018, there was an Encore! performance at New York’s City Center.
For Signature’s production, directed by Eric Schaeffer, Maury Yeston has added additional music and lyrics to the original songs by Robert Wright and George Forrest. Musical Director Jon Kalbfleisch conducts a seven-piece orchestra. Most of the numbers, except perhaps for the opening, “The Grand Parade,” will be unfamiliar to the audience. That won’t matter for many, however, because the Signature cast, with strong, talented voices, makes it impossible not to enjoy these songs. Then there’s the choreography by Kelly Crandall D’Amboise, particularly for “Maybe my Baby Loves Me” and “The Grand Charleston,” featuring the two Jimmys (Ian Anthony Coleman and Solomon Parker III) that alone are worth the price of admission.
Each character has a story. Baron Felik von Gaigern (the charismatic Nkrumah Gatling) has a title, but little else. He struts around the hotel lobby, befriending lost souls like the typist Flaemmchen (Nicki Elledge), or the dying Jewish bookkeeper, Otto Kringelein (Bobbi Smith), while dodging a thug disguised as a chauffeur (Gregory Maheu), he owes money to. Also in residence is Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Natascia Diaz), an aging prima ballerina on one of her many of farewell tours. Her longtime and trusted aide, Raffaela (Crystal Mosser), makes it her job to protect Elizaveta, even though she is not being paid. Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag, not yet recovered from the horrors of World War I, injects himself with morphine, which not only dulls his pain, but also his empathy for others. General Director Preysing (Kevin McAllister) is trying, with little hope, to hold together a deal that will save his company. First seeming to be an ethical businessman, once things go south, Preysing lashes out with serious consequences for many of the hotel guests.
Once again, Signature makes use of its intimate theater to bring the audience close to the action. Scenic design by Paul Tate Depoo III transforms the space into a replica of a grand lobby. A concierge desk is manned by Erik (Nicholas McDonough), a young man forced to work overtime, keeping in touch by phone with the hospital where his wife is about to give birth to their first child. High above the stage, a trio of telephone operators create a cacophony as they direct calls, the old-fashioned receivers cleverly dropping from above to be snatched up by individual guests.
Through May 19, 2019
4200 Campbell Avenue
Top Photo: the cast of Grand Hotel by Margot Schulman