Review: Divine Decadence Revisited in ‘Grand Hotel’

Review: Divine Decadence Revisited in ‘Grand Hotel’

As for what churns beneath its opulent surface, it’s still a rather dreary slog. But perhaps that’s appropriate for a show about fatal illusions of glamour in a dark and decaying world.

The basis of the Oscar-winning 1932 film, starring Greta Garbo and John Barrymore, Baum’s novel was a paradigm of the oft-recycled formula that assembles disparate, doomed souls in a single (preferably high-toned) setting and sets them on a collision course (“Ship of Fools,” “Murder on the Orient Express”). In the late 1950s, the team of Luther Davis (book) and Robert Wright and George Forrest (songs) did a stillborn adaptation that closed in San Francisco.

Those are the names that are still appended most prominently beneath the title of “Grand Hotel, the Musical.” But when Mr. Tune took on the assignment of artificially resuscitating the show in the late 1980s, he brought in the veteran Broadway composer Maury Yeston (who collaborated with Mr. Tune on “Nine”) and book writer Peter Stone to add snap and sex appeal.

Mostly, though, it was Mr. Tune and his design team that made this “Hotel” seem like a four-star establishment. His production told simultaneous, overlapping stories of unraveling lives by keeping its cast in perpetual, precision-tooled motion. And don’t underestimate the appeal of the show’s time and place — Berlin, 1928 — which immediately summoned memories of the sinister Broadway blockbuster “Cabaret.”

The Encores! “Grand Hotel,” which deploys what feels like a city-size ensemble, is similarly perfumed in divine decadence. It retains some elements of Mr. Tune’s original staging, including the use of portable, gold wooden chairs, reconfigured in different patterns.

Photo

Heléne Yorke, far right, who plays a poor but ambitious typist in “Grand Hotel, the Musical.”

Credit
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

This production also includes — in addition to the requisite crystal chandeliers and sepulchral lighting (by Ken Billington) — a central red-carpeted staircase that seems to be waiting for Dolly Levi. As in the original, the orchestra (fluidly led, as usual, by Rob Berman) is visibly perched above the action, pouring out weltschmerz-laden melodies that flow like a thick, high-proof dessert wine.

The hotel’s population of guests look fab in their period glad rags. They include an over-the-hill ballet star (Irina Dvorovenko, in the Garbo part) who falls in love with an aristocratic thief (Barrymore’s role, played by James Snyder); a poor but ambitious typist (Heléne Yorke), working for a lecherous tycoon on the verge of bankruptcy (John Dossett); and a consumptive Jewish clerk (Brandon Uranowitz) who wants to live, live, live before he expires.

As they embody various degrees of love, lust and last-ditch deceptions, a cynical morphine-addicted doctor (William Ryall) oversees the proceedings. “People come, people go,” he observes, immortally. “Look at them — living the high life! But time is running out.” Small wonder that when “Forbidden Broadway” did its (priceless) parody, it was called “Grim Hotel.”

Mr. Rhodes’s production isn’t grim, but it’s oddly uninvolving, and only some of the many cast members emanate the vivid magnetism that is a musical’s life blood. They include Ms. Yorke (who has the period glamour poses down pat), Mr. Uranowitz, Mr. Dossett, John Clay III as a beleaguered hotel employee and, as a pair of terpsichorean bartenders, James T. Lane and Daniel Yearwood.

Ms. Dvorovenko, who was a star of the American Ballet Theater (and a smash in the Encores! “On Your Toes”), seems too fresh and frisky to portray an aging diva. As her aristocratic suitor, Mr. Snyder has a gleaming trumpet of a tenor. But he generates the most chemistry with Mr. Uranowitz, with whom he performs a death-defying Charleston in the production’s high point, “We’ll Take a Glass Together.”

Mr. Rhodes is a skilled traffic cop, and his choreography is appropriately restless and stylish throughout, though this is not the kind of show to make you feel like dancing. Its prevailing tone, of cautionary camp, is made clear when, early on, the cast forms a confrontational line at the stage’s rim.

“Look at us!” they seem to be saying. “We are so beautiful and so damned. Envy us! Pity us!” Think of it as a glossy tabloid set to swelling violins.

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