A 1929 novel begat a 1930 Broadway play begat an Oscar winning Best Picture in 1932 starring Greta Garbo. In 1958, a musical called At The Grand debuted in San Francisco but failed to reach Broadway. Thirty one years later, a renamed Grand Hotel finally arrived, directed by Tommy Tune with some new songs by Maury Yeston (Nine). To get there, the writer and original composers were dumped during the out of town tryout in Boston. Songs were added and cut, the book rearranged and refocused. Set in 1928 Berlin between the wars and right before the Depression, the musical became a hit, winning five Tonys and running for 1,077 performances.
Encores! produces fairly high quality concert versions of forgotten or slightly flawed works for a week. This version in particular had a set which harked back to the original with polished staging, nice choreography and impressive costumes. A real opportunity to revisit and reassess this piece. My memory of Grand Hotel is that the show was stylish but forgettable and boring.
In 1989, critics were quite mixed to negative in their reviews. Tommy Tune’s creative imagination was uniformly praised and the show “should satisfy those with a boundless appetite for showmanship untethered to content.” Others had more fun with headlines such as “Vacancies at the Inn” and “A Few Reservations about Hotel.” Clive Barnes knocked the “dull” score which had “Tune where its tunes should be.” The Wall Street Journal used the words superficial, melodramatic and pedestrian, with a story “as empty as the lives of those who inhabit the hotel.”
Viewing Grand Hotel nearly thirty years later, there is no surprise revelation. There are a few good songs, notably “Love Can’t Happen” and the showstopper, “We’ll Take A Glass Together.” The book is not good and quite scattered as evidenced by the multiple bellhop phone conversations with his pregnant wife in a hospital delivery room. The German boss, naturally, demands double shifts. Whether in the original story or not, it’s another undeveloped distraction. The enjoyably oddball characters remain sketchily drawn but the pace doesn’t really slow down so the overall effect is akin to entertaining blah.
Grand Hotel made Jane Krakowski a star as the typist with dreams of Hollywood glory. The showstopper featuring Michael Jeter’s Tony Award winning performance as the terminally ill accountant can still be found online. Most of this cast sang the score beautifully but fully developed characters did not really emerge. Given this show’s pedigree, they cannot be entirely blamed. For musical theater fans, the Encores series is invaluable, informative and fun. On the subway, a handful of strangers compared notes after Grand Hotel. Unfortunately for this show, we were all in complete agreement.