Nov 1, 2004

3-Star "Hotel," With Reservations

At the risk of having two performers whose work I've praised in the past doubt my judgment forever, I have to say I honestly don't see what they were talking about when they dumped on the Colony Theatre's mostly well-reviewed (scroll down) production of GRAND HOTEL. Like Back Stage West's Les Spindle, my problems were more with the material, which is often both flimsy and clumsy, than with the production, which is perfectly agreeable, occasionally inventive, and, in the case of a few performances, even inspired. Jason Graae's a performer I always enjoy but I thought I'd seen his whole repertoire. He managed to surprise me: His initially cloddish, then almost debonair dance with Beth Malone (also a delight, as always) is worthy of Buster Keaton.

The staging issues mentioned by the one actress didn't bother me, but perhaps I had a better seat. The ballerina's solo number is embarrassing, but again, it's the song as much as the direction; I have a new nominee for a lyric from hell: "We must dance, dance, dance/To the splendor of/The music of love."

More of a problem was that I found my mind wandering, quite a lot, through the show's first half. This musical seemingly spends 30 minutes announcing "we're at the Grand Hotel," alternating with reminders that it's "the Grand Hotel, Berlin." The show's only truly involving moments involve Graae's nebbishy accountant and Malone's wannabe actress, particularly as their paths begin to cross through a series of unfortunate, sordid plot turns. And this development only starts to emerge in the last 20 minutes or so--a little too late. Perhaps there's more to this musical, as one of those critical actresses suggested, and director Schneider's streamlining has taken out all the juicy stuff. Frankly, though I don't know the original, if what's left out is as inconsequential as much of what's left in, Schneider has done us a favor by doing the show some violence (or what Brian Bedford, in a recent interview for the Taper program of his upcoming THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL, might call "a degree of surgery").

By my lights, this would put GRAND HOTEL in the "Recommended" column--recommended for those who enjoy musical theatre for its own sake, even when it's so-so material done with polish and conviction.

But then, what do I know? I'm the only critic (and possibly only human being) I know who thinks SUNSET BLVD. is Andrew Lloyd Webber's only good show. I left LES MIZ at intermission and found RENT annoying. I do like me my musicals, but like a lot of other show queens I reserve the right to be picky and contrarian. As Broadway pariah Paul Simon once sang, One man's ceiling is another man's floor.

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