People from all walks of life are checking into the luxurious Grand Hotel in old Berlin: an aging ballerina who’s lost her groove, a smooth-talking baron with sticky fingers, a struggling typist with Hollywood dreams, and a dying bookkeeper who just wants to live it up during his last days.
Everyone wants to be there.
And Signature Theatre has recruited a top-notch cast and crew to make sure audiences enjoy their visit.
The Arlington company is revisiting this swift-moving ensemble piece, from bookwriter Luther Davis and composers Robert Wright and George Forrest, with additional music and lyrics from Maury Yeston. Director Eric Schaeffer first staged this musical at the theater’s former home almost two decades ago.
Based on a novel by Vicki Baum, “Grand Hotel” is overflowing with colorful characters who revolve in and out of Paul Tate dePoo III’s handsome-looking set design. And Robert Perdziola’s stylish suits and dresses look quite fetching in this art deco hotel, featuring ornate railing wrapping the stage and candlestick telephone receivers that descend from above. One thing that feels out of place: the lighted-up square flooring, which looks odd in certain colors (like electric green) and kinda disrupts the whole vintage vibe.
The musical numbers “The Grand Parade” and “Some Have, Some Have Not/As It Should Be”—a bustling and boisterous display of the rich, the people who work for them, and the ones who are paid to serve them all—open the show, which takes place over a weekend in 1928, at time between two world wars.
Out of all the characters, Otto Kringelein is the one you feel for the most. The Jewish bookkeeper just wants to have a taste of the high life after learning he’s dying. Wearing ill-fitting, rumpled clothes, he doesn’t exactly blend in with the hotel’s shiny and sophisticated clientele. After being refused a room—despite having the dough, he receives a friendly hand from Baron Felix von Gaigern, who helps Otto with his dream of staying at the ritzy establishment.
As Otto, Signature favorite Bobby Smith is an absolute joy to watch, especially when his character breaks out of his shell and becomes the life of the party in the show-stopping musical number “We’ll Take a Glass Together” with his new best pal.
The Baron, played by Nkrumah Gatling, not only has a way with words, but also with the ladies—sweeping two of the guests off their feet. In his Signature debut, Gatling is a charmer with his big dashing smile, and his powerful voice suits perfectly with the soaring romantic ballad “Love Can’t Happen,” a duet with Natascia Diaz’s gloomy-faced ballerina, and the emotional “Roses at the Station.”
The production is packed with talented performers, one of whom Fredericksburg theatergoers may recognize.
Nicki Elledge, who won hearts portraying Belle in Riverside’s “Beauty and the Beast,” does the same here again as Flaemmchen, a poor, young secretary who yearns for a better life—even if it means working for a handsy businessman. With a face that can light up a room, Elledge shows off some serious singing chops in “Girl in the Mirror,” where she shares Flaemmchen’s dreams of making it big in Hollywood.
While the story is mostly focused on the hotel’s guests, it does highlight a few of its hardworking staff. There’s the front desk employee Erik (sweetly played by Nicholas McDonough), who’s anxiously awaiting the birth of his child; and the two Jimmys from America—one from North Carolina and the other South Carolina. Solomon Parker III and Ian Anthony Coleman’s high-spirited performance of the jazzy number “Maybe My Baby Loves Me” with Elledge is a fun treat.
While the songs are superbly sung by the cast, and get a big boost from Kelly Crandall D’Amboise’s energetic choreography, many of the tunes aren’t particularly memorable. However, with vibrant performances and an engaging set of mini-stories, this well-dressed “Grand Hotel” makes for a pleasurable stay.