Preview by David Munro
IT'S GRAND, it’s chic, it’s glamorous, it’s
Grand Hotel, which re-opens on November 19, 2004
at the Donmar Warehouse in a brand new production
by the Theatre’s Artistic Director, Michael Grandage.
Grand Hotel is the musical version of Vicki Baum’s
novel of the same name.
It has been twice filmed, the first time under its own name,
by MGM, in 1933, and later, in 1945, remade by the same studios
as Weekend at the Waldorf.
The show covers a few days at a luxury Hotel in Berlin (based
on the Adlon) where the lives, loves and misfortunes of some of
the guests intertwine.
In particular, a ballerina who fears she will never dance again,
a nobleman being pursued for debt, a secretary who wants to go
to Hollywood, a crooked financier, a clerk having his last fling
before death and watching them and commenting on their foibles,
a dope-ridden doctor.
The forthcoming production at the Donmar is a revival of the
version premiered in New York on November 12, 1989 - 15 years
ago almost to the day.
This was based on an earlier version, At The Grand,
by the same authors - librettist, Luther Davies, and lyricist/composers,
Robert Wright and George Forrest.
At The Grand, which was a free adaptation of William
A. Drakes' translation of Viki Baum’s dramatised version
of her novel, transferred the location of the hotel to Rome and
an Operatic Diva was substituted for the Ballerina, and, for some
reason best known to the authors, gangsters were injected to the
plot, none of which 'improvements' enhanced the original story
It opened at the Philharmonic Auditorium, Los Angeles, on July
7, 1958, produced by Edwin Lester, who had produced the same author’s
Kismet some five years earlier.
Originally intended as a vehicle for Bert Lahr as the dying
clerk (now a scullery man), the lead was ultimately given to Paul
Muni who signed a ten-week contract to cover performances in Los
Angeles and New York.
Although the production was intended for Broadway and was in
fact announced as opening at 46th St Theatre on September 25,
1998, Muni refused to sign for Broadway and the production, despite
a million dollar advance sale, had to be cancelled, making its
closing performance, at San Francisco, on September 13 the last.
There was another link with Kismet as the Lalume in that production,
Joan Diener, played the Diva and Albert Marre, her husband, directed
Luther Davis subsequently revised the book, reverting to the
Vicki Baum characters and plot and this revised version was offered
to Tommy Tune to direct in New York.
Tommy Tune had at that time recently
very successfully directed the almost plotless Tony award winner,
Nine, the music of which had been written by Maury Yeston.
Tune apparently considered the script old fashioned and decided
to have a workshop tryout to see whether the show would work.
A full description of how the show developed thereafter can be
found in Martin Gottfreid’s More Broadway Musicals since
1980, in which he devotes a whole chapter to the making of
Basically, Tune re-worked the whole libretto so that the play
took on a fluid choreographic aspect.
He concentrated the action into the main reception area of the
Hotel with characters entering through revolving doors; music
was added to underscore the action and dancers took to the stage
between and sometime during the dramatic scenes. Wright and Forrest
added new numbers but despite all this, the tryout in Boston was
It was at this juncture Tune turned to Maury Weston to write
a new opening, introducing all the characters (he also wrote a
love song for the Baron) and got Peter Stone to collaborate with
Davis on the book.
He then restaged the whole play putting even more emphasis on
dancing and movement so that by the time it was ready for Broadway
it had become, in Marin Gottfreid’s words, 'the most densely
choreographed musical in Broadway history'.
After a successful Broadway run, Tune restaged the show for London,
where it opened on July 6, 1992, at the Dominion Theatre with
eight of the Broadway principals, including Liliane Montevecchi
as the Ballerina.
For this new production, Michael Grandage has assembled an interesting
cast of principals - Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, from Broadway,
as the Ballerina; Julian Ovenden, last seen at the Donmar in Merrily
We Roll Along, as the Baron; Gary Raymond, as the doctor;
Helen Baker, following her performance as Miss Dorothy in the
Modern Millie, as the secretary; Daniel Evans, also from Merrily
We Roll Along, as the dying clerk; Martyn Ellis as the financier,
and Gillian Bevan as the Ballerina’s secretary.
Adam Cooper, the award-winning choreographrer and erstwhile leading
dancer in Mathew Bourne’s Swan Lake, has come in
from the rain to do the choreography, which should, if his past
work is anything to go by, be outstanding.
Christopher Oram, who has designed successfully in the past for
Donmar’s intimate acting area, will be in charge of re-creating
the Grand’s splendour, while the music will be under the
direction of Jae Alexander.
Roll on November. I can’t wait for what promises to be
a most interesting evening at the Donmar.
Oh by the way! you had better book up soon, as the run is limited
to the Christmas period and is scheduled to close its doors on
February 12, 2005 - so make your way to 41 Earlham Street now!
If you want to book by phone the number is 0870 0606624
and I would recommend that you have with you Mark Shenton’s
Companion (reviewed here a few weeks ago) to ensure you know
what seats you are booking.
Enjoy the show!