Play: “Grand Hotel”
Group: Over Due Theatre Company
Venue: Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive
Dates: April 23, 24, 25
Tickets: $13-$15; contact 636-328-6546 or www.overduetheatrecompany.com
Story: Berlin is the place to be in 1928, as the stock market thrives and a decade has passed since the conclusion of “The Great War.” And in Berlin the place to see and be seen is the “Grand Hotel,” where Doctor Otternschlag, limping and wearing an eye-patch as vestiges of his service in World War I, observes the goings-on from his perch in the lobby.
While shooting himself up with morphine he tells us that life is “always the same here, people come, people go,” but of course there’s quite a bit going on: Aging prima ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya is being urged to perform once again by her manager and the local impresario; the destitute Baron von Gaigern needs money to keep a mobster off his back; gravely ill Jewish accountant Otto Kringelein wants to live up his final days at the posh establishment; starry-eyed typist Flaemmchen dreams of moving to Hollywood and becoming a movie star in the “talkies”; and businessman Preysing tries to fend off bankruptcy for his company. The lives of these characters and others intersect over one weekend.
Highlights: Produced on Broadway in 1989 under the Tony Award-winning direction of Tommy Tune, “Grand Hotel” went on to win five Tonys and enjoy more than 1,000 performances some three decades after its predecessor, “At the Grand,” failed to generate much buzz. Luther Davis, who wrote the book, and Robert Wright and George Forrest, who wrote lyrics and music, were joined by Maury Yeston, who added several songs at Tune’s request over the others’ objections.
A sprawling, ambitious saga, “Grand Hotel” is a daunting subject for a community theater to undertake, but director Suki Peters’ inspired and painstaking efforts somehow manage to make this production work, albeit in uneven and somewhat ragtag fashion.
That’s because Peters wisely selected Jennifer Theby to essay the role of the charming heroine, Flaemmchen. Theby is an ingratiating performer, and she makes this presentation work, sometimes through sheer will. She lights up the stage with an endearing portrayal, adding a lovely voice and some nice footwork as well that effectively showcases Maria Straub’s pleasing choreography.
Other Info: Peters deftly keeps the show moving at a lively pace, with scene changes brisk and unobtrusive. She garners additional solid performances by Ryan Cooper, whose youth belies a touching portrayal of the kindly Kringelein. Steve Callahan brings the right touch of gravitas to the narrator’s role of Dr. Otternschlag, while Tom Kopp adds his usual solid performance as conflicted businessman Preysing, who finds himself capitulating to various deadly sins as his empire crumbles.
Bradley Behrmann makes for a suave and debonair Baron, although his singing doesn’t quite measure up to the demands of the role. John Wolbers adds a nice touch as the showman Sandor, and Carin Thyssen quietly plays the ballerina’s trusted aide, Raffaela. Joshua Cook, Adam Thenhaus, Brennan Eller, Aaron Dodd and Chuck Brinkley contribute in various smaller roles. The large-scale production also includes ensemble efforts by Travis Pfeifer and Gustavo Perez as nightclub performers, Maggie Murphy, Autumn Rinaldi and Morgan Hatfield as telephone operators, Wayne Mackenberg, Alex Jones, Ted Drury, Robbie Haupt, Evan Masterson, Debbie Bixler, Priscilla Case and Valleri Dillard.
Musical director Mary Sutherland’s orchestra overcame an initially murky and muffled start to complement proceedings on stage, effectively concealed behind the handsome set designed by Brian Peters. That scenic presentation well utilizes the compact performance area and is anchored by a revolving door that allows for players’ access into the lobby. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes nicely convey the wardrobes of various levels of society.
While the level of performance varies from the mundane to the inspired, Peters’ version of “Grand Hotel” delightfully shows what a community theater can accomplish with heart, passion, inspiration and hard work, with the invaluable artistry of some talented players to dress it all up.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.