BWW Review: An Elegant GRAND HOTEL at SHAW FESTIVAL"People come, people go," "some have, some have not." Simple lyrics that can expose a myriad of stories and wounds. Just what one would expect in a busy hotel. No one is ever quite sure what happens behind the closed doors of a grand hotel, but outward appearances are often just that, appearances that don't always belie the truth. Given those opportunities for musical intrigue, The Shaw Festival is producing an elegant production of GRAND HOTEL at their Festival Theatre for their 2018 Season.

Yet again, programming this musical by Artistic Director Tim Carroll is a spot on choice for the company. Set in Berlin in 1928, GRAND HOTEL has an intriguing book by Luther Davis and score by Robert Wright and George Forrest. Written in 1958 and all but forgotten under the title AT THE GRAND, the show had a rebirth in 1989 when the TONY AWARD winning production renamed GRAND HOTEL was directed by Tommy Tune, and additional music and lyrics were written by Maury Yeston.

The drama swirls around a penniless Baron von Gaigern who lives the high life on a series of debts, and his new found love for an aging ballerina, Elizaveta, who is one her 8th Farewell Tour and almost penniless, save for her jewels. Weave in a near destitute typist named Flaemmchen who has aims on Hollywood, a dying Jewish bookkeeper, and an American business man and you have the backbone of the story. Mr. Davis has written a script the neatly intertwines these characters under the watchful narration of the Colonel-Doctor, who bitter life is plagued with pain due to Mustard gas and mental war wounds. Davis' script is full of twists and turns, and capitalizes on the darkness of the period, where Americans yearned to be overseas and Europeans desired the wealth that could be found in America.

Director Eda Holmes has done fine work guiding the detailed production through it's paces, with a nod to the seediness of Berlin mixed with the glamour of a Grand Hotel during the jazz age. Choreographer Parker Esse, whose work shone in last season's in ME AND MY GIRL, has designed lilting waltzes and toe tapping charlestons that set the tone for the evening. On opening night the able cast could have benefited from a bit more precision work in Act I and one wonders why one of the two Jimmys, both American male entertainers, was played by a woman, ala George Sand. While an intriguing idea on paper, in practicality it was often distracting and lent itself to some odd singing results, due to the difference in vocal registers.

James Daly is the dashing Baron, whose naivete and good looks are picture perfect. His lovely tenor voice was crystal clear and dancing skills were spot on. The Act 1 finale allowed Daly to shine in "Love Can't Happen." Shaw Festival regular Deborah Hay was excellent as the petite ballerina, failing due to her age and a lack of true love. Her waif-like stature made her utterly convincing and she sang well enough, most notably in "Bonjour Amour." The fabulous Patty Jamieson got the juicy role of Raffaela, the ballerina's confidante who aches to be more than a friend. Ms Jamieson's cool demeanor was matched by her plaintive singing, notably in "What You Need."

Deborah Hay as Elivabeta. Photo by David Cooper

Michael Therriault is the bookkeeper Otto Kringelein who gets the showstopper "We'll Take a Glass Together," where the dying man is briefly reborn in the fantastic duet with the Baron and chorus. What Mr. Therriault lacks in vocal power is offset by his limberness and agility. He brings the number to it's rousing climax, backed by by a swirling bar and genius choreography by Mr. Esse. Vanessa Sears has all the right moves as the young typist Flaemmchen, while Steven Sutcliffe is imposing as Colonel-Doctor. Sutcliffe starts the show injecting morphine to relieve his chronic pain and them looms around, often in shadow, commenting on his observations of the comings and goings.

Michael Therriault as Otto Kringelein, James Daly as Baron von Gaigern and the cast of Grand Hotel. Photo by David Cooper.

Designer Judith Bowden has created a stunning set with multiple mirrored columns, turning panels, dripping chandeliers and mobile staircases. Her costumes are opulent for the guests, while creating handsome uniforms for the staff and switchboard operators. Music Director Paul Sportelli has a tight reign on the proceedings, and the 15 piece orchestra is polished playing Mr. Sportelli's own orchestral adaptation.

With it's dramatic book and captivating score, this production of GRAND HOTEL should settle in nicely in the coming months. It's bevy of fascinating characters and evocative designs make for an engaging theatrical outing that befits the high standards one comes to expect from the Shaw Festival.

GRAND HOTEL plays at the Festival Theatre of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario, through October 14, 2018. Contact for more information.

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From This Author Michael Rabice

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