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A CurtainUp DC Review
Grand Hotel

People come and people go— quoted by many as they parade through the lobby of the Grand Hotel, in Berlin, in 1928.
Natascia Diaz (Photo: C. Stanley)
The immediate reaction to walking into Signature Theatre's splendid production of Grand Hotel is awe. Paul Tate Depoo III's set, redolent of old Europe, is magnificent. Much of the audience would be happy to check in immediately. Even the little touches — a small bouquet of flowers and an Erté-like sculpture on top of the reception desk — are perfect.

Robert Perziola's costumes play into the ambiance perfectly, particularly the grey fur-lined outfit worn by Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Natascia Diaz, more about her performance later) and the black and white outfits on all the other women. Those too speak of the times as the designs favor Art Deco geometric lines. Colin K. Bills lighting is excellent through but breathtakingly beautiful when focused on Elizaveta's costume when she dances Giselle.

Among his many other talents, Eric Schaeffer brings an enormous sense of style and sky-high production values to the shows he directs plus he brings out the best in those who work with him. And how smart to run Grand Hotel for 110 minutes without an intermission that way the momentum is not lost.

So much visual pleasure detracts from the fact that Grand Hotel, based on the 1928 novel by Vicki Baum, the 1932 movie and 1989 musical, is corny. Robert Wright and George Forrest's music (there's an onstage 7-piece orchestra) is mediocre and most of their lyrics are okay but nothing to get excited about, and Luther Davis's book is trite.

None of that matters though as the fast-paced story of the haves and have-nots unfolds. There are two references in the plot to new life which must have taken a leap of faith by novelist Vicki Baum as Berlin in 1928 and 1929 was a complex place with compromised morals, the Weimar Republic, burgeoning anti-semitism, and financial ruin for not just the poor but the wealthy as well.

The discrepancy between classes is brought home not just by the opulence of the Grand Hotel but by a significant piece of choreography. The scullery workers who enter through the audience carry crates of dishes that they shake and bang. Steam rising from the floor and the sound of broken crockery are clever metaphors for what is to come. Not all Kelly Crandall D'Amboise's choreography, or for that matter the dancers, are as good in other scenes. The formations — admittedly the playing area is not large get to be repetitious. The Two Jimmys (Ian Anthony Coleman and Solomon Parker III) are not always in sync as one overplays his part and the other seems to be just going along for the ride. Sometimes the smallest part, however, can yield a great comic moment which is certainly the case of Maria Rizzo's Trude.

The characters who pass through the Grand Hotel's lobby in 1928 have one thing in common: their world of aristocracy and wealth is about to end as Berlin, indeed the world, heads into the Depression caused by the stock market crash of 1929. In a way, just how depraved and sinister life is to become is signaled by the opening scene as Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag (Lawrence Redmond in a nice, controlled performance), a World War I veteran who tries to alleviate the pain caused by his war wounds by shooting up. He is soon joined by Baron Felix von Gaigern (a very suave Nkrumah Gatling) whose lovely voice makes "Roses at the Station" a show-stopper and "The Crooked Path," a fair warning. Gatling's dancing seemed, initially, hesitant so when he does a mean Charleston it comes as a very pleasant surprise. Kevin McAllister is excellent as General Director Preysing, a businessman who was once the epitome of probity succumbs to the mores of the tim.

From the moment she makes her first entrance, Elizaveta Grushinskaya dominates the stage. She claims she is tired. She is no longer young. She does not want to perform any more but her managers convince her she needs to carry on as they and she need the income.

The part calls for great range, from ennui in "Fire & Ice" to passion "Bonjour Amour," a stunning solo delivered in an Edith Piaf vein, to a vignette of the prima ballerina she once was doing a bit from Giselle, which Natascia Diaz executes perfectly on toe! Is there anything this actress cannot do? She was a passionate Fosca in Passion and a fiery sometimes comic Anita in West Side Story. How long can we keep her in Washington when her many talents could surely take her anywhere she wants to go.

Grushinkaya's faithful servant/p.a. Raffaela (Crystal Mosser, whose voice is strong and pleasant particularly in her solo, "How Can I Tell Her" protects her boss no matter what. The hint of a lesbian affair is handled with grace. Otto Kringelein, the only reference to Jews and antisemitism, has a facility with money while everyone else is going bankrupt, is performed with sensitivity by Bobby Smith. At the beginning of the show, his character's dying wish is to experience what the Grand Hotel has to offer. Somehow he goes into remission (not all the plot twists make sense but what the hell) and he is dancing the Charleston before heading for Paris with Flaemmchen, (Nicki Elledge,a good hoofer), as a typist who wants out of Berlin and in to Hollywood. Grand Hotel ends on a happy and hopeful note. Check in for a five-star experience.

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Grand Hotel
Book by Luther Davis,based on novel, Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
Music and Lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest
Additional Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston; br> Directed by Eric Schaeffer

Cast: Lance Redmond (Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag); Natascia Diaz (Elizaveta Grushinskaya); Crystal Mosser (Raffaela); Kevin McAllister (General Director Preysing); Nicki Elledge (Flaemmchen); Bobby Smith (Otto Kringelein); Nkrumah Gatling (Baron Felix von Gaigern); Gregory Maheu (Chauffer, Sandor; Shareholder); Ian Anthony Coleman (Scullery Worker, Jimmy 1, Zinnowitz, Shareholder); Vincent Kempski (Skullery Worker, Witt, Shareholder); Solomon Parker III (Scullery Worker, Jimmy 2, Shareholder); Alicia Osborn (Madame Peepee; Telephone Operator; Shareholder); Katie Mariko Murray (Telephone Operator; Tootsie 2, Shareholder); Maria Rizzo (Telephone Operator; Tootsie 1, Trude, Shareholder, Dance Captain); Nicholas McDonough (Erik); Ben Gunderson (Rohna).

Scenic Design by Paul Tate Depoo III;
Costume Design by Robert Perdziola
Lighting Design by Colin K. Bills
Music Direction by Jon KalbFleisch
Choreography by Kelly Crandall D'Amboise
Running time 110 minutes, no intermission
Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, Va.,; April 2 -May 19, 2019.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson at April 9, 2019 performance.

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