“Come begin in old Berlin”
Finally, a traverse staging that feels properly justified. It’s still highly dependent on where you sit – despite being a little late, I was able to secure a great vantage point from the middle of the back row from where the full length of the stage for Grand Hotel was suitably visible and I was glad for it. Thom Southerland’s musicals at the Southwark Playhouse have become something of an annual fixture now, becoming big hits for them (Parade) even if they haven’t always floated my boat (Titanic…).
Based on Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel, the book by Luther Davis swirls around the residents of this Berlin establishment in 1928 over one fateful weekend. A grande dame of a faded ballerina, a typist dreaming of Hollywood, an aristocrat who has lost his fortune, a businessman facing ruin, a man who has little time left to live, their stories and more intertwine elegantly and fluidly in a constantly moving state of flux which captures some of the unpredictability and increasing darkness of interwar Germany.
What really makes it work is the movement of Lee Proud’s choreography, making full use of the narrowness of the space, and also its height, to create a propulsive sense of energy and flow that is a constant visual treat. It also sounds gorgeous under Andrew Jackson’s musical direction, the music and lyrics by George Forrest and Robert Wright with additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston is occasionally a little amorphous, no killer tunes popping out on this first listen for me, but it adds up to something very special.
In a top-notch company, lead performers Scott Garnham’s Baron and Christine Grimandi’s ballerina, Victoria Serra’s dreamer and George Rae’s Otto all do brilliant work. But it really is an ensemble that brims with quality from top to bottom – Durone Stokes and Jammy Kasungo’s double act, Valerie Cutko’s aching loneliness, the characterisation is superb no matter the size of the role. The doors of the hotel are only open for a few days more so I’d hurry if I were you, it’s not to be missed.