Pros: Stunning chorus numbers and strong visual moments.
Cons: Two hours, no interval and a few too many storylines.
Grand Hotel, a new version of the Tony-Award Winning Broadway musical, is set in The Grand Hotel Berlin, 1928. The rich and famous have come to stay and brought their troubles along with them. There’s the prima ballerina on the last of her many final tours; the baron whose wealth disappeared long ago; the young typist with dreams of Hollywood; and the dying Jewish book keeper looking for a taste of life.
Presented in traverse, this is a wonderfully intimate experience. It’s quite special to be so close to such a talented cast of performers. Lee Proud’s slick, energetic choreography shines throughout with numerous stunning moments, especially during the chorus numbers. In such an intimate space these numbers become all enveloping audio-visual experiences which just have to be seen.
There is a love story here, and it’s as ridiculous as any musical love story should be. However, it’s also a touching one. As the fading prima ballerina in love, Christine Grimandi’s Grushinskaya is one of the most engaging performances of the night. We are treated to equally strong performances from Baron (Scott Garnham), Flaemmchen the young typist (Victoria Serra) and Kringelein (George Rae), the Jewish book keeper who can really throw some moves on the dance floor.
With a running time of around two hours and no interval this feels like a long show. A tightly packed audience seated either side of a very narrow stage means that the moments at which boredom sets in are quite visible. This is however no criticism of the skilled cast, rather the musical itself which contained enough characters, sub-plots and songs to fill a TV series. In fact I’d love to see Grand Hotel get the Netflix treatment, but it’s tricky to cram that many developed characters and stories into a two hour musical: it all seemed a bit too much.
Although the subject material has the potential to be very dark the direction wasn’t quite sinister enough for me, and moments which should have had a strong emotional impact failed to hit the spot. This is a shame because the play ends with a wonderfully dark and sinister chorus number which demonstrates just how good some of the other moments could have been.
For me, a good musical needs to have songs which stay in your head for days and although I didn’t think I’d remember any of them when I left the theatre, I woke up this morning with the closing number firmly fixed in my head. I think it’s going to be stuck there for a few more days to come. Although this is a long show, it is packed with enough stunning moments to leave you with a big grin on your face and it’s a rare treat to experience a musical of this quality in such an intimate venue.
Book: Luther Davis
Music and Lyrics: George Forrest and Robert Wright
Additional Music and Lyrics: Maury Yeston
Director: Thom Southerland
Choreographer: Lee Proud
Booking Until: 5 September 2015
Box Office: 0207 4070234
Booking Link: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/grand-hotel/?popup=1