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Review: GRAND HOTEL Enchants at The Merry - Go- Round Playhouse

Review: GRAND HOTEL Enchants at The Merry - Go- Round Playhouse
The company of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival production of Grand Hotel. Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr. /GF Media.

The Merry - Go - Round Playhouse is now enchanting audiences with a breathtaking production of Grand Hotel the Musical. Director Brett Smock's productions often are memorable and this one is no exception. With the lavish set, spot on casting, and impressive choreography this production is one of the top productions I've seen presented at The Merry - Go - Round Playhouse.

The musical features a book by Luther Davis and music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, with additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. It is based on the 1929 Vicki Baum novel and play, Menschen im Hotel (People in a Hotel), which inspired the 1932 MGM feature film Grand Hotel. The musical earned numerous Tony Award nominations in 1990 and won in five categories, including Tommy Tune's wins for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography.

The musical takes us to Berlin, 1928, where many people from all sorts of backgrounds are staying at an elegant hotel for the weekend. The roaring '20s are still in full swing and Berlin is the place to be for parties, dancing, drinking, and, of course, scandal. The ever-revolving door of the hotel takes center stage as many unique - and sometimes famous - guests enter, stay, drink, eat, and party. And, inevitably, they cross paths.

Some of the guests at the hotel include a cynical Doctor suffering from World War I wounds,; a Baron that uses his charm, status, and looks to secure a room even though he is now penniless; an ageing Russian prima ballerina and her entourage; a dying Jewish bookkeeper dreaming of spending his final days the way the other half lives; and a General Manager of a failing textile mill and his temporary secretary/typist who is dreaming of Hollywood fame. These unique individuals all seem to cross paths in the luxurious hotel and flirtations, scandal, murder, and much drama abound.

Of course, there are those that work at the hotel taking care of those 'that have' and they are the 'have nots.' There are maids, bellhops, entertainers, and an assistant concierge named Erik awaiting to hear of his child's birth. Unfortunately, he cannot be by his wife's side as she delivers because he is not able to get time off.

Neal Benari is chilling in the role of Doctor Otternschlag. He opens the show with a dramatic monologue while injecting himself with morphine and provides the right mood for the dark, mysterious, and dramatic story to begin. Doctor Otternschlag is often on stage watching and analyzing the eccentric characters that pass through the hotel, and Benari's stage presence is mesmerizing as he watches from above on Michael Schweikardt's superb multilevel set. His musical numbers, including "The Crooked Path" and "I Waltz Alone," are highlights.

Patrick Cummings plays the young, charming, and now destitute Baron Felix Von Gaigern and lends his impressive and effortless tenor voice to "Who Couldn't Dance With You," "Love Can't Happen," and his standout number "Roses at the Station." Every one of the musical numbers is magic thanks to his glorious vocals. His chemistry, charm, and confidence steal the spotlight.

Dino Nicandros plays Otto Kringelein the very ill bookkeeper looking to spend his final savings and days at the Grand hotel in Berlin. His portrayal of Kringelein is emotional, powerful, and expressive. Kringelein is an awkward, sweet, and unique character that you can't help but root for and this comes out in Nicandros' performance. He delivers an emotional rendition of "Table With a View," and charms the audience with "At the Grand Hotel," "Who Couldn't Dance With You," and "How Can I Tell Her."

Samantha Sturm steals the spotlight with her dancing and charm as Flaemmchen a young typist (who may be pregnant) dreaming of being in the big pictures in Hollywood. Sturm's dancing skills are spot on as she shows off Brett Smock's charming and spunky choreography. Her take on "Girl in the Mirror" is fun, spunky, and a favorite of mine in the show. Sturm also charms alongside the Jimmys (Wesley J. Barnes and Darius Jordan Lee) in "Maybe My Baby." Sturm stuns in the role and the casting is picture perfect.

Michele Ragusa is confident, gorgeous, and memorable in the role of the ageing Russian prima ballerina Grushinskaya. Her stage presence exudes pure star quality and she steals the spotlight with her acting, emotion, and vocals in numbers such as "Fire and Ice," "Love Can't Happen," and her standout number "Bonjour Amour." Kristen Gehling plays Raffaela, Grushinskaya's confidante and dresser, who has feelings for the ballerina. Gehling's powerful and emotional alto voice takes center stage in this captivating role.

Other standouts include Mark Hardy as the villanous Hermann Preysing, the General Manger of a failing textile mill who lures his temporary secretary to be nice to him. His portrayal of the creepy, ruthless, selfish, and heartless businessman is spot on. Jake Mills, as Zinnowitz an attorney in Berlin, delivers standout vocals in "Everybody's Doing It" and "The Merger is On" alongside Hardy. Liam Fitzpatrick's confidence and line delivery as Witt, the Company Manager of Grushinskaya's ballet troupe, also makes his performance a highlight. Sam Stoll also delivers a heartwarming performance of the young concierge, Erik. Tyler Joseph is appropriately stern as Rohna, the Hotel's Manager. Lilli Komurek plays Madame Peepee and her vocals and stage presence are also a highlight. The rest of the ensemble deliver appropriately powerful performances in the big music and dance numbers such as "Grand Parade" and "We'll Take a Glass Together."

Of course, the artistic elements capture the lavishness of the setting quite beautifully. Tiffany Howard's costume designs are perfect for each unique character and the time period. There is plenty of fringe, dramatic hemlines, and sparkle to capture the elite having the time of their lives during the roaring '20s in Berlin. Alfonso Annotto's wig design features spunky bobs and perfectly platinum locks for many of the girls in the show. Annotto and Howard's detailed approach to creating these visual elements is first rate. From the maids and bellhops to the Baron and Grushinskaya, the entire cast looks the part. Lighting designer Adam Honoré's often dark and mysterious lighting adds further emotion to the already dramatic storyline.

Let's not forget the full bright sound and musical direction by Brian Cimmet. He leads the nine-person onstage and elevated orchestra at the top of the multilevel set. The energy, power, and passion coming from the orchestra brings those oh so danceable numbers to life perfectly. From the Charleston to the waltzes, the music is perfectly complemented by Smock's choreography. The entire ensemble and the orchestra bring those beautifully written numbers to life with a unique and hypnotizing flair as the audience gets swept away in a visit to the Grand Hotel.

This artistic, musically powerful, and passionate performance of Grand Hotel is not to be missed at the Merry - Go - Round Playhouse. Artistic Director Brett Smock has once again proven his eye for the dramatic with another spellbinding (and not often performed) musical. The casting, the sets, the hair, the makeup, the costumes, the music - is all flawless. With only some minor sound issues on the night I attended, this production is, in my opinion, among the top five that have been presented as part of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival.

Running time: Two hours and fifteen minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.

Grand Hotel runs through July 31, 2019 as part of the 2019 Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival at the Merry - Go - Round Playhouse in Auburn, New York. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions part of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, click here or call 315-255-1785.

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