Grand Hotel is a musical based on the novel by Vicki Baum and subsequent film, with a book by Luther Davis, music and lyrics by George Forrest and Robert Wright, and additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. It is currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse, directed by Thom Southerland, and knowing that theatre’s well-deserved reputation for reinventing lesser-known musicals, I booked my ticket straight away.
In Berlin’s Grand Hotel, all life can be found, from wealthy and notorious guests to lowly hotel staff. On a traverse stage, the varied characters come to life: a dying Jewish bookkeeper who wants to taste life before he leaves it; a fading ballerina; a troubled typist with Hollywood ambition; an attractive but poverty-stricken Baron; an elderly doctor with war wounds; a businessman facing financial ruin; a hotel worker worrying about his wife in labour. Each of the characters comes to life in their own way, their stories interweaving with one another over the course of a few days. The setting and the period are reminiscent of Cabaret, though this musical never quite reaches those heights: there are too many characters to become really involved in any of the stories.
The lead actors are accomplished: I particularly liked George Rae’s sympathetic portrayal of a dying young man, and Scott Garnham’s performance as a conscience-stricken Baron. However, the musical truly shines during the ensemble numbers, particularly the opening routine and the show’s closing sequence, which reflects the looming Great Depression and the rise of the Nazis. It’s set in Berlin, after all. None of the musical numbers really stood out for me, but the music blended together as a whole to be an evocative and atmospheric evocation of the time and place. Lee Proud’s choreography is effective and dynamic, particularly during the 20s-era Foxtrot and Charleston.
I didn’t love Grand Hotel as much as some of the other shows I’ve seen recently at Southwark; but it’s a good production of a decent musical, and it is well worth seeing.