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Musical Hotel-de-luxe - a close look at Grand Hotel



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 greatly.

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 both productions.

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 Grand Hotel.

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 a disaster.

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 recent “Thoroughly 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 invaluable Theatregoers Companion (reviewed here a few weeks ago) to ensure you know what seats you are booking.

Enjoy the show!

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