REVIEW: Encores! “Grand Hotel, The Musical” is Simply Glorious
Musical theatre may be one of the hardest art forms to get right, but when it happens, there is nothing better. As New York City Center’s Encores! series triumphantly celebrates its 25th anniversary, “Grand Hotel, The Musical”—a long overlooked gem from 1989—is a simply glorious reminder of how transcendent, moving, and purely joyous a good old fashioned musical can be.
Finally abandoning any pretense that it is still a mere “concert” series, “Grand Hotel” is presented by Encores! as a full out Broadway-quality production with sets, lights, costumes, blocking, and choreography, impressively mounted after just weeks of rehearsals, and featuring a feast of the finest performers in musical theatre. Indeed, may we be so fortunate, this production is ready for a well-deserving Broadway transfer now.
All one hour and 45 minutes of this thrilling, appropriately intermissionless impressionistic snapshot of 1928 Berlin society is perfectly calibrated by writers Luther Davis (book), Robert Wright, George Forrest, and Maury Yeston (music and lyrics), under the exquisite and smart hand of director/choreographer Josh Rhodes who tightly weaves the non-stop action together with remarkable clarity and in service of a unified vision, capturing the spirit of desperate decadence that characterized the age.
In the waning, golden days of the Weimar Republic, as the world was on the verge of going mad, a fading Russian ballet dancer (Irina Dvorovenko), her devoted confidante (Natascia Diaz), a penniless baron (James Synder), a dying accountant (Brandon Uranowitz), a typist with eyes on Hollywood (Heléne Yorke), and a businessman in moral turmoil (John Dossett) cross paths in life changing ways over the course of three days at the Grand Hotel in Berlin. The storytelling is sharp and effective, with the lines of these six principal characters, and a circle of supporting personalities, at constant intersection—all haunted by the menacing presence of a passionate tango duo, dubbed The Countess and The Gigolo (Guadalupe Garcia and Junior Cervila), who represent the taunt of death.
The always fabulous Encores! Orchestra is perched on a bias onstage above the bustle of action, with a grand, red-carpeted staircase leading to a giant mirror center stage, three chandeliers, and two columns stage right (set by Allen Moyer); the balance of the settings are created using gold chairs—a nod to the original production—and a pole that’s alternatively a ballet barre and a bar. The simplicity allows the complexity of the story to unfold smoothly and seamlessly.
The musical itself is expertly crafted, thanks to the enduring strength of the original conception by legendary director/choreographer Tommy Tune, who shepherded the property—based on a 1929 novel and 1932 film—first adapted for the stage in an ill-fated 1958 effort then resurrected and brought across the finish line in 1989. This production pays homage to Mr. Tune’s brilliant vision, while maintaining its own new, fresh perspective brought to life by the array of superb performances. Of note, two time Tony nominee Mr. Uranowitz continues to prove why he remains one of the most compelling and promising performers in the business (I’m patiently waiting for a “Kiss of the Spider Woman” revival with him as Molina), as does Ms. Yorke.
“Grand Hotel” offers an evocative and sumptuous visit to a world long-gone, and a stirring affirmation of living life in the moment. Amid the sea of jukebox recycling and cynical branding ventures that comprise too much of the field of the modern musical, it is also a glaring reminder of how bold creativity, expert craft, and good writing and direction can never be equaled by spectacle or the safety of known commodity.
All I knew of this show before seeing it was the now-iconic 1989 Tony performance of “We’ll Take a Glass Together”, which remains the showstopper of the evening, now faithfully performed by Mr. Uranowitz and Mr. Snyder. At its best, the Encores! series celebrates the passing and reintroduction of great musicals from generation to generation. At year 25, that mission has never been more vital nor more joyfully fulfilled.
Bottom Line: “Grand Hotel, The Musical” is a glorious gem from 1989, now presented in a full out, Broadway-quality production with a roster of superb performances that weave an evocative, sumptuous, and highly entertaining visit to 1928 Berlin. This is arguably the best production Encores! has presented since “Chicago” in 1996, and deserves a Broadway transfer. See it now so you can say you saw it when!
“Grand Hotel, The Musical”
131 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (no intermission)
Saturday, March 24th at 2PM and 8PM
Sunday, March 25th at 2PM and 7PM