Dark and Depressing Musical
Grand Hotel, now on stage at the Shaw Festival, tells the foreboding stories of various guests staying at Berlin’s most luxurious hotel. But the luxury is dimmed by their dark lives. Set between the two world wars, Grand Hotel is based on the 1932 movie.
You know it’s going to a rather dark place when the show opens with the narrator injecting drugs into his arm. He is a doctor, crippled both physically and mentally by mustard gas and injuries in World War I. Even having the crystal chandelier hoisted to the ceiling can’t brighten the future of the inhabitants and employees of the Grand Hotel.
Their stories are miserable. A desk clerk can’t get any time off as his wife nearly dies giving birth to their son. An aging prima ballerina insists she can’t dance any longer. A young typist is pregnant, spoiling her dreams of going to Hollywood, and leaving her vulnerable to her boss’s sexual harassment. That boss loses a business merger and the hotel is doomed. The family fortune of a young Baron is gone, leaving him threatened by an unscrupulous moneylender. Only one man comes to the Grand Hotel to enjoy the luxury, but then we learn he’s there because he is dying. Without spoiling the plot, I can say that there are bright moments, but alas, those don’t end well. Any pleasure at Grand Hotel is short lived.
Deborah Hay gives an excellent performance of the aging ballerina, Elizaveta. She draws us in, first making us feel sorry for her, then delighting us with her in her new found love. Michael Therriault, as Otto Kringelein, is also a bright light in the dimmed hotel. Therriault’s comedic timing is perfect as he demonstrates Otto’s joy in spending his final days at the deluxe hotel.
James Daly is a charming Baron von Gaigern. Daly will be remembered for his outstanding performance as Harold in Master Harold … and the Boys at the Shaw two years ago. At that time he was able to handle a South African accent perfectly. It seems strange that no German accent was used in this production. In fact, it was odd that some characters had appropriate accents while others did not. Kimberly Rampersad is spectacular in the dance scene as The Spectre, drawing others to their deaths.
Grand Hotel is reminiscent of Shaw’s Cabaret in 2014. Both are dark, pre-World War II stories, showing the seamier side of Berlin during the era of Germany’s Weimar Republic. There are other similarities: Deborah Hay is/was the outstanding actor in both.
Don’t go to Grand Hotel if you’re looking for a bright, cheery musical. This isn’t it. The script is depressing and the dialogue often seems stilted. It’s difficult to make this musical attractive, even with some clever song and dance numbers.
In the 1932 movie, actress Greta Garbo uttered her famous line “I want to be alone”. With all the sad and drab lives revealed here, we understand that desire. Don’t book a room at the Grand Hotel if you’re expecting a grand time.
Grand Hotel continues in repertory at The Shaw Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 14. For tickets, visit www.shawfest.com or call 1-800-511-SHAW(7429).
Photo: Deborah Hay as Elizaveta Grushinskaya in Grand Hotel, The Musical. Photo by David Cooper.
By Luther Davis
Music & Lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest
Based on Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel
Directed by Eda Holmes
Choreographed by Parker Esse
Musical Direction by Paul Sportelli
Performed by Deborah Hay, Michael Therriault, Steven Sutcliffe, Vanessa Sears, James Daly, Jay Turvey, et al.
Shaw Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake
May 3 to October 14, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson