<em>Grand Hotel</em>&nbsp;at Lyric Stage

Review: Grand Hotel | Lyric Stage | Irving Arts Center

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At Lyric Stage, the divinely decadent Grand Hotel thrills with big orchestra, '30s glamour, doomed romance and a dark score spiced with giddy numbers.

published Monday, November 2, 2015

Photo: Michael C. Foster
Grand Hotel at Lyric Stage


Irving — In a lamp-lit corner room high on the dark stage, a tall crippled man injects his tightly bound forearm with a hypodermic needle and the lights go up across John Farrell’s two-story, three-dimensional set, revealing the red-drenched, gilt-chandeliered lobby and private rooms of the Grand Hotel.

The morphine addicted Doctor Otternschlag (a sardonic James Williams) descends the stairs, takes a stage-side seat and explains who’s who, with telling remarks on the baggage they’re bringing along. All at once, swaggering or staggering guests, alert bellhops in red caps, and sassy maids in white ruffled aprons march front and center in the handsome Lyric Stage production of the show at Irving Arts Center.

The sultry opening waltz, played by Jay Dias’ 32-member orchestra, creates an atmosphere so thick with gilded decadence and doomed romance, you could slice it with a sharp staccato of trumpets. Bring on Berlin in 1928, and the melodrama of strangers lurching toward each other in a famously uncertain era, with new fortunes and old titles at stake and Nazism on the rise.

Photo: Michael C. Foster
Grand Hotel at Lyric Stage
The musical, with music by Robert Wright and George Forrest (and additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston), and scripted by Luther Davis, was based on the 1930s novel by Vicki Baum, the source also of the star-studded 1932 MGM film. The Lyric Stage production of the show is directed with dramatic pacing by Len Pfluger, adapting Tommy Tune’s 1989 Tony Award-winning direction and choreography.

Grand Hotel lives up to its weighty title, with a cast of 30 including eight major characters, from typists to financiers, and no less than 20 scenes, all magically woven into two entertaining hours of sheer theater, with some rousing dance, strong, coherent voices and elegant costumes, coordinated by Margaret Claahsen.

The strongest center of this tornado of storylines is the buzz surrounding the debonair young Baron von Gaigern (the handsome, virile tenor Christopher J. Deaton), a penniless aristocrat and sometimes thief whose high-living lifestyle is financed by his escalating debt to menacing mobsters. He stuns himself by falling for the aging ballerina Elizaveta (a delicate, petulant Mary-Margaret Pyeatt), whose love of dance is rejuvenated by his attentions. The love affair happens fast, like everything else in this show, but the chemistry between the two is convincing, and their duet, the melodious “Love Can’t Happen,” generates some real heat. Pyeatt is more convincing dramatically as a desperate aging woman than as a one-time dance diva, and her voice is somewhat course for her light-hearted morning-after song “Bonjour Amour,”  Her devoted lesbian companion (a glowering Jacie Hood Wenzel) looks on the lovers angrily, as she sings a throaty “What She Needs,” meaning herself.

Taylor Quick, a beautiful, fresh-faced Texas Christian University student, is sexy, sassy and totally winning as the flirty young pregnant typist eager to make it on the big screen any way she can, a wish exuberantly expressed as she kicks up her heels and rolls her eyes in “I Want to Go to Hollywood.” Maybe the corrupt American businessman (a bald, beleaguered Barry Phillips) is her only ticket to cross the Atlantic.

Ivan Jones and Mark Gerarrd Powers, as two Carolina boys hoofing their way across Europe, have the show’s best cabaret song, singing and dancing “Maybe My Baby Loves Me,” a jazzy, high-voltage number delivered with spark and style.

Andy Baldwin, a terrific triple-threat singer, dancer and actor familiar to Lyric Stage audiences from many roles, is a touching and funny Otto Kringelien, a dying Jewish bookkeeper with Groucho appeal blowing his savings on one last fling at the posh hotel. Although such gymnastics on the part of the dying could only happen in a musical, we’re cheering Otto on when he and the love-besotted Baron deliver their show-stopping song and dance Charleston routine ”We’ll Take a Glass Together.” Toasting each other in six different languages, they slide down the bar (an actual 20-foot metal tube brought on for the bar scenes) and execute the heel-toe dance steps in happy unison. Whoa-ooo, Otto! Bravo, Baron!

Phone operators in filmy dresses and a quartet of pan-clanging kitchen guys have a noisy protest song, voicing their discontent in “Some Have, Some Have Not,” but the show is not especially interested in the latter—and neither are we.

The emotional focus is on the longing, the desire of everyone to find a connection, via the phone or in the flesh, and get some good news going before “The Grand Parade” is over. The tangle of interconnected stories and “radiograms” is resolved—at least for this round of guests—as the revolving door whirls them out to make room for the next customers.

Check into Grand Hotel while reservations are still available for this haunting and tuneful evening of theater. Thanks For Reading

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At Lyric Stage, the divinely decadent Grand Hotel thrills with big orchestra, '30s glamour, doomed romance and a dark score spiced with giddy numbers.
by Martha Heimberg

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