In the Players’ Grand Hotel, lives are changed overnight.
By Kay Kipling
Other than a touring production, to my knowledge the musical Grand Hotel has never been presented in Sarasota before. And while it’s not perhaps one of the most perfect of Broadway musicals, it’s still well worth seeing.
So I’m glad the Players of Sarasota decided to tackle this large-scale, ensemble piece, which, as originally staged by Broadway legend Tommy Tune, requires a constantly moving, smooth flow of both personae and storyline. Director/choreographer Bob Trisolini handles both with skill; there may be a moment of confusion here or there, but that’s perhaps as much due to the book by Luther Davis as anything else.
That book, of course, has its origins in the Vicki Baum novel that inspired the classic MGM all-star movie Grand Hotel, and while there are minor differences between the play and the film, the main characters—and the all-important setting of 1928 Berlin—remain the same. Coming through the revolving doors of the Grand are a host of characters: a down-on-his-luck nobleman (Steve Dawson), an aging ballerina (Kaylene McCaw), her loyal companion (Ellie Pattison), a dying Jewish bookkeeper (Chip Fisher), an ambitious typist (Julianne Randolph) and an overbearing businessman (Clifford J. Cespedes) chief among them. Each is at a moment of crisis, and as their stories come together we glimpse not only personal dramas but a picture of a world on the verge of economic, political and cultural change. All is overseen by a supporting cast of telephone operators, maids, bellboys and scullery workers, in addition to the cynical and war-wounded doctor (Robert Mansell) who acts as a narrator at the beginning and end of the show.
Steve Dawson, Chip Fisher (background) and Julianne Randolph in the Players’ Grand Hotel.
The cast is well selected overall. Cespedes and Randolph especially are physically right for their roles, and while Randolph may not have the strongest of voices her dancing and personality are spot on as Hollywood-hungry Flaemmchen. Dawson sings excellently as ever as the Baron, and McCaw, while not conveying her character’s fragility completely, certainly displays the right mix of vanity and self-honesty. Fisher may be overdoing his physical schtick at the outset of the evening, but his number with Dawson, We’ll Take a Glass Together, is one of the show’s highlights, thanks both to their work and to Trisolini’s seemingly loose and free choreography. And the ballroom dancing by Alexis Martin and Stephen Sieg (as the Countess and the Gigolo) is very impressive.
The set by Richard E. Cannon, a lobby of red velvet and gilt with the revolving door prominent, is pleasant to look at and serves to encompass all the action, no matter where in the hotel it actually takes place, and the costumes (by McCaw) likewise are visually stimulating. If you haven’t ever seen Grand Hotel before, or even if you have, why not take the chance to check in? It’s onstage at the Players through Jan. 20; call 365-2494 or visit theplayers.org for ticket info.