WATCHING THE MUSICAL version of "Grand Hotel" is a little like booking a hotel room that is initially unappealing. In time, you get to like it, and in more time, you don't want to leave.
That's the way it is with this show, the musical version of the Vicki Baum novel that was written in 1929. In 1932, it became an MGM film with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lionel and John Barrymore, Wallace Beery and Lewis Stone in the cast. The movie is now a certified classic, so anyone brash enough to do it for the stage, is asking for it.
Tommy Tune is the man who did the asking. He directed and choreographed and won Tonys for doing both. The awards were well deserved. "Grand Hotel" is a comedy-drama whose many characters demand equal time and get it.
Among them are the ballerina who thinks she can no longer dance, the baron who breaks into her room and falls in love with her, the businessman who makes the wrong decision, the secretary who dreams of going to Hollywood, the hotel doctor, the dying bookkeeper and the woman who serves as companion to the ballerina.
Liliane Montevecchi, who created the role of the ballerina when the show first opened in New York 15 months ago, is doing the same role on the road. She is no small asset to the proceedings. Brent Barrett is another asset as the baron, and if you think of Garbo and Barrymore when The Scene begins, you stop thinking of them as Montevecchi and Barrett continue along. It is one of the highlights of the show.
Among the dance numbers is a show-stopper in which the secretary, played by DeLee Lively-Mekka, sings about wanting to go to Hollywood. This is the role Crawford did in the film. Lively-Mekka isn't Crawford, but then she doesn't have to be. She is a superb dancer. "I Want to Go to Hollywood" is the number that picks this show up and sets it on course.
The staging is imaginative throughout. The single set is a framework of "floors" and "rooms," and when Barrett plays cat burglar, he climbs several of these "floors" to get to the ballerina's "room."
Tune, who did the unforgettable "Nine," has managed a minor miracle here. He has taken a large number of characters, given them all fair time and has underscored all this with choreography that is exceptionally smooth. A bolero, performed shortly before the show ends, is as beautiful as anything you will see on ice. This is ice dancing without the skates.
Another pleaser is the Charleston number led by Mark Baker, as Kringelein, the dying bookkeeper. You can't tell it by the dancing. Once more, the choreography is a pleasure, and there are only a few moments when there is no dancing. Much of the time, Tune encloses groups of dancers in squares to the rear of the stage. They dance on as the action continues out front.
Anthony Franciosa, a film and stage veteran, plays Doctor Otternschlag, who is addicted to drugs. He also acts as the ringmaster to all these people, making philosophical comments from time to time.
When "Grand Hotel" opened on Broadway, Karen Akers was Raffaela, companion to the ballerina. At the Mechanic, she is played by Debbie de Coudreaux, who, on first glance, could easily pass for Akers. De Coudreaux has one of the show's more effective songs, "What She Needs," which she sings from her "floor."
The musicalized "Grand Hotel" stands as tall as Tommy Tune (6-foot-5). When you see it, just be a little patient with it. Like many worthwhile productions, it takes a few minutes to grab its audience.
"Grand Hotel," done without intermission (it is two hours long), will remain at the Mechanic through March 17. If it's smart you want, this is it.
*** People come and people go at the Grand Hotel in 1928 Berlin.
CAST: Liliane Montevecchi, Anthony Franciosa, DeLee Lively-Mekka, Brent Barrett, Mark Baker, Debbie de Coudreaux, K. C. Wilson
DIRECTOR: Tommy Tune
TIME: Two hours without intermission