From the front desk of a hotel lobby, one must see a lot of life and hear a lot of stories. One might wonder at those stories, might wonder at the opportunities for strangers to meet in the limited time they are staying there. Would they find love? Friendship? A new future together? Or their untimely end? This revival of Grand Hotel presents to us this voyeuristic view into a handful of lives in 1929 Berlin.
The musical is a depiction of the service industry, its customers and a universally felt hunger for more. This begins with the images in the opening number created by Lee Proud’s striking choreography. The visitors to the Grand Hotel call their demands to the staff who are likewise hollering back their script of servitude, on opposite ends of the intimate promenade stage. They pass through each other with all the transience of a hotel lobby, in a whirlwind of escalating voices and individual energies. Gradually, naturally, the stories we will follow through the rest of the show are introduced.
These stories weave fluidly into each other and give us momentary glimpses into the characters’ lives, like peeking behind the closed doors of a hotel corridor. We meet a pregnant young woman pining for hollywood, a ballerina who should have retired long ago, a poor baron seeking love – seeking money, seeking release – and a dying man seeking life. It’s a lot to ask of a hotel, and the characters sing out to the audience – wide eyed, and to no one in particular – as if we might meet their needs, or we might demand their help. But we too are just part of this moment in time, drawn in by the intimacy of the promenade stage and the pace of the action.
Each number of George Forrest and Robert Wright’s score (with additional music and lyrics by Maurt Yeston) is led seamlessly by Michael Bradley’s musical direction, with truly stunning verve and volume from the performers. A duet between Baron Felix von Geiger (Scott Garnham) and Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Christine Grimandi) that marks the declaration of their new-found love for each other is a triumph, and Victoria Serra’s performance as the zesty, innocent Flaemchen is irresistible to watch. What this production leads with is its precision and tenacity, demanded by the slim playing space and the power of the 1920s. Thom Sutherland’s attentive direction ensures that not a single story passes unnoticed, and nor does its performance.
With feelings of transience at its core, achieving an ending that is satisfying is no doubt a challenge. But with the staff tossing the suitcases and the nervous lowering of a chandelier, we are in danger of waiting for more out of necessity rather than desire. Nonetheless, the warm glow left by such stunning performances and infectious energy is enough to leave feeling sated. Grand Hotel, at your service indeed.