Grand Hotel (musical)
Original Broadway Logo
|Basis||1929 Vicki Baum novel and play, Menschen im Hotel (People in a Hotel) and film|
1992 West End
Based on the 1929 Vicki Baum novel and play, Menschen im Hotel (People in a Hotel), and the subsequent 1932 MGM feature film, the musical focuses on events taking place over the course of a weekend in an elegant hotel in 1928 Berlin and the intersecting stories of the eccentric guests of the hotel, including a fading prima ballerina; a fatally ill Jewish bookkeeper, who wants to spend his final days living in luxury; a young, handsome, but destitute Baron; a cynical doctor; an honest businessman gone bad, and a typist dreaming of Hollywood success.
The show's 1989 Broadway production garnered 12 Tony Award nominations, winning five, including best direction and choreography for Tommy Tune. Big-name cast replacements, including Cyd Charisse, helped the show become the first American musical since Big River to top 1,000 performances on Broadway.
Menschen im Hotel marked the beginning of the career of popular Austrian novelist Baum in 1929. She dramatized the novel for the Berlin stage later in the same year. The play became a hit, and its English-language adaptation enjoyed success in New York in the early 1930s and was made in to the blockbuster 1932 Academy Award-winning film, Grand Hotel, starring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore and Joan Crawford.
At the Grand
Davis, Wright, and Forrest first adapted Baum's story in 1958 under the title At the Grand, changing the setting from 1928 Berlin to contemporary Rome and transforming the ballerina into an opera singer closely resembling Maria Callas to accommodate Joan Diener, who was scheduled to star under the direction of her husband Albert Marre. All of them had collaborated on the earlier musical Kismet and anticipated another success, but Davis' book strayed too far from the story familiar to fans of the film. When Paul Muni agreed to portray Kringelein, the role was changed and expanded, with the character becoming a lowly hotel employee whose stay in a hotel suite is kept secret from the management. Flaemmchen became a dancing soubrette, Preysing and his dramatic story line were eliminated completely, and two deported American gangsters were added for comic relief.
At the Grand opened to mixed reviews and good business in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but when an unhappy Muni refused to extend his preliminary contract and left the production, producer Edwin Lester decided to cancel the Broadway opening scheduled for September 25, 1958, and everyone moved on to other projects.
Three decades later, Davis, Wright, and Forrest decided to dust off their original material and give the show another try. This time it was placed in the hands of director/choreographer Tommy Tune, who envisioned it as a two-hour, non-stop production comprising dialogue scenes, musical numbers, and dance routines overlapping and at times competing with each other, thereby capturing the mood of a bustling hotel where something is happening at all times. Seven songs from At the Grand were incorporated into what was now called Grand Hotel, although two were dropped during the Boston tryout.
The creative team proved to be too attached to the original material and resisted every change that Tune proposed. "Bluntly stated, the show didn’t work. With the exception of the choreography and the physical trappings, the show was deadly," Tune recalled in his memoir Footnotes. Frustrated, he finally fired Wright and Forrest and brought in Maury Yeston in 1989, with whom he had worked in Nine, to compose six new songs and revise others (including rewriting over half the lyrics in the show). He also hired Peter Stone to doctor Davis' book, although Stone refused official credit for his work. Thommie Walsh was brought in as a show doctor on many of Broadway's greatest hits during the 1980s. Many numbers in Grand Hotel were actually choreographed by Thommie Walsh with out taking official credit. Tune later commented, "I hate it when it gets ugly on a show. It always does though, and you've gotta be hearty to survive. If it's not the writers, then it's the producers or the cast. There is always turmoil, but if you're lucky some good can come of it all. I have always tried to be kind to everyone, but please don’t mistake my kindness for weakness."
The roaring '20s are still in high gear, and Berlin is the center of high life. Guests come and go at the opulent Grand Hotel, as cynical Doctor Otternschlag, who still suffers from World War I wounds, injects his morphine. Assistant concierge Erik, busy at the front desk, waits to hear of his son’s birth; his wife is having a difficult labor. Baron Felix Von Gaigern, young, good-looking and destitute, uses his charisma to help him secure a room in the overbooked hotel while stiffing a tough gangster who pretends to be a chauffeur. Ageing Russian prima ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya arrives with her entourage who try to persuade her that she still can and must dance. Her confidante and dresser, Raffaela knows that they would have to come up with a lot of money if the dancer failed to show up for her contracted engagements. Raffaela has feelings for Elizaveta.
Jewish bookkeeper Otto Kringelein, who is fatally ill, wants to spend his life's savings to live his final days at the hotel in the lap of luxury. The Baron helps him secure a room. Meanwhile, Hermann Preysing, the general manager of a failing textile mill, hears that the merger with a Boston company is off, spelling financial ruin; he does not want to lie to his stockholders but gives in to the pressure. He plans to go to Boston to try to revive the merger and presses his temporary secretary, Flaemmchen, to accompany him and "take care of him". She dreams of Hollywood stardom and fears she might be pregnant, but flirts with the Baron. She also agrees to a dance, at the Baron's suggestion, with the surprised and delighted Otto. Elizaveta suffers through another unsuccessful dance performance and rushes back to the hotel. She bursts into her room to find the Baron as he is about to steal her diamond necklace to pay back the gangster, but he pretends to be her biggest fan. The two fall in love with each other and spend the night. He agrees to go with her to Vienna so that she can fulfill her dancing engagements, and they will get married; they plan to meet at the train station.
Two African-American entertainers, the Jimmys, sing at the bar and dance with Flaemmchen. Erik tries to get off work so that he can join his wife at the hospital, but the unpleasant hotel manager, Rohna, refuses to give him any time off. The Baron has persuaded Otto to invest in the stock market, and Otto has made a killing in the market overnight. But Otto is not feeling well, and the Baron helps him to his room, resisting the temptation to steal his wallet. Otto rewards the Baron with some cash. The gangster confronts the Baron and directs him to steal Preysing's wallet; he gives the Baron a gun. Preysing has cornered Flaemmchen in their adjoining rooms and pressures her for sex. The Baron, who was in Preysing's room trying to steal his wallet, hears Flaemmchen's cries next door and walks into her room to defend her while still holding Preysing's wallet. After a struggle, Preysing kills the Baron with the gangster's gun. Preysing is arrested. Grushinskaya's heart is broken when the Baron does not appear at the train station. Raffaela keeps the news of the Baron's death from her until she reaches Vienna.
Otto offers to take Flaemmchen to Paris; he has plenty of money now so that they can enjoy the good life for as much time as he has left, and she realizes that she is fond of him. Erik has a son, and finds out that his wife came through the labor alright. Doctor Otternschlag observes: "Grand Hotel, Berlin. Always the same – people come, people go – One life ends while another begins – one heart breaks while another beats faster – one man goes to jail while another goes to Paris – always the same. ... I'll stay – one more day."
Roles and original cast
- The Doorman – Charles Mandracchia
- Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag - Grievously wounded by gas and shrapnel in WWI; a cynical, ruined man – John Wylie
- The Countess - Ballroom Dancer – Yvonne Marceau
- The Gigolo - Ballroom Dancer – Pierre Dulaine
- Rohna - Hotel General Manager; a martinet – Rex D. Hays
- Erik - Intelligent young assistant conceierge, ambitious, about to start a family – Bob Stillman
- The Bellboys - Georg Strunk, Kurt Kronenberg, Hans Bittner, Willibald (Captain) – Ken Jennings, Keith Crowningshield, Gerrit de Beer, J. J. Jepson,
- The Telephone Operators - Hildegarde Bratts, Sigfriede Holzhiem, Wolffe Bratts – Jennifer Lee Andrews, Suzanne Henderson, Lynnette Perry
- The Two Jimmys - Black American Entertainers – David Jackson and Danny Strayhorn
- Chauffeur - A gangster posing as a chauffeur – Ben George
- Zinnowitz - An attorney in Berlin – Hal Robinson
- Sandor - Hungarian Theatre impresario – Mitchell Jason
- Witt - Company Manager of Grushinskaya's ballet troupe – Michel Moinot
- Madame Peepee - Lavatory Attendant – Kathi Moss
- Hermann Preysing - General Director of a large textile mill; a solid burgher – Timothy Jerome
- Flaemmchen (née Frieda Flamm) - A pretty young typist who has theatrical ambitions – Jane Krakowski
- Otto Kringelein - Not old, but mortally ill; a bookkeeper from a small town – Michael Jeter
- Baron Felix Von Gaigern - Young, athletic, charming, optimistic, broke – David Carroll
- Raffaela - Confidante, Secretary, and sometimes dresser to Elizaveta Grushinskaya – Karen Akers
- Elizaveta Grushinskaya - The still-beautiful, world-famous, about-to-retire Prima Ballerina – Liliane Montevecchi
- Scullery Workers: Gunther Gustafsson, Werner Holst, Franz Kohl, Ernst Schmidt – Walter Willison, David Elledge, William Ryall, Henry Grossman
- Hotel Courtesan – Suzanne Henderson
- Trudie - A Maid – Jennifer Lee Andrews
- Detective – William Ryall
Broadway and subsequent productions
After thirty-one previews, Grand Hotel opened on November 12, 1989 at the Martin Beck Theatre, and later transferred to the George Gershwin to complete its total run of 1,017 performances. The show is played without an intermission. The original cast included Liliane Montevecchi as Elizaveta Grushinskaya, Michael Jeter as Otto Kringelein (garnering much praise and several awards), David Carroll as the Baron, Timothy Jerome as Preysing, John Wylie as Otternschlag, Bob Stillman as Erik, and Jane Krakowski as Flaemmchen. Replacements later in the run included Cyd Charisse (in her Broadway debut at age 70) and Zina Bethune as Elizaveta, Austin Pendleton and Chip Zien as Otto, and John Schneider, Rex Smith, and Brent Barrett as the Baron. The production captured 12 Tony nominations, winning five awards, including best direction and choreography for Tommy Tune.
The release of the much in-demand original cast recording was delayed nearly two years due to legal disputes with Wright and Forrest. By the time the situation was resolved, Carroll was seriously ill with AIDS, and died from a pulmonary embolism while in the bathroom of the recording studio early in the session. Brent Barrett, who had appeared as the Baron both on Broadway and in the national tour, sang the role for the cast album released by RCA Victor. As an homage to Carroll the cast album features a bonus track of his performance during a 1991 cabaret fundraiser for Equity Fights AIDS, singing the Baron's major song, "Love Can't Happen".
The first West End production opened on July 6, 1992 at the Dominion Theatre, where it ran for slightly fewer than four months. In 2004, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio starred as Elizaveta in a small-scale production directed by Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
Original London production
|1993||Laurence Olivier Award||Best New Musical||Nominated|
|Best Theatre Choreographer||Tommy Tune||Nominated|
- Information from the StageAgent.com website
- Kalfatovic, Mary. "Maury Yeston", Contemporary Musicians (ed. Luann Brennan). Vol. 22, Gale Group, Inc., 1998
- Tune, Tommy. Footnotes: A Memoir, Simon & Schuster (1997) ISBN 0684841827
- Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops by Ken Mandelbaum, published by St. Martin's Press (1991), pages 213-216 (ISBN 0-312-06428-4)
- Grand Hotel at the Music Theatre International website
- Information from the StageAgent.com website