By Ron Fassler
Thirty years ago, Tommy Tune’s Grand Hotel: The Musical, opened on Broadway. Beautifully staged, and choreographed to the nth degree, it won five Tony Awards. But in a fight to the finish line, at the end of the evening, its chief rival (the more conventional and broader City of Angels) had been handed the same number of Tony’s: five each. The tie was broken when Dustin Hoffman opened the envelope and Angels was crowned the victor.
But on Monday evening, the night didn’t belong to the Angels, but to Grand Hotel and a special one-time reunion concert that played to two sold-out audiences at the Green Fig restaurant (not the cabaret space). Some original cast members (a few performing in different roles) and assorted guest stars came together, dedicating the night to one of its leading players, Liliane Montevecchi, who passed away in 2018. Sadly, the thirty years have not been kind to many who were part of this production. Its authors George Forrest and Robert Wright, Luther Davis and Peter Stone have all passed away, as have a number of actors who performed the show over its 1,017 performances. Both David Carroll and Michael Jeter (who won a Tony for his portrayal of the dying Kringelein) died far too young. John Wylie and Kathi Moss are gone, as well as such prominent replacements during its run as Mark Baker, Cyd Charisse and Zina Bethune. As the show is quite dark, with many a meditation death, the presence of these angels was felt throughout this night of memory told in song with additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston.
It was led by the wonderful musical director, Elliott Finkel on piano, who somehow managed to conduct the actors as they scurried all over the restaurant, entering and exiting through any porthole available, which seemed at times an impossible task. Original cast member Walter Willison (who wrote this piece) played narrator and was in charge of this mayhem as the evening’s director, a task he handled with aplomb and panache. The vocal demands of Grand Hotel’s score are challenging, but John Schneider (who played the Baron during the original run) was in fine voice, Ken Jennings (the original Toby in Sweeney Todd), taking on the role of Kringelein hit every note with the right balance of pain and ebullience, and Willison himself acquitted things beautifully. And then there was Karen Akers, who was in a class by herself. A fabled chanteuse of the cabaret world, her being cast in Grand Hotel back in 1990 was a reunion with Tommy Tune, who had cast her in 1982’s Nine. Both these shows constitute (to date) her only appearances on Broadway, which judging from her ability to charm and captivate an audience, is an outright shame.
Mention should be made of Sachi Parker, who gave a melancholy warmth to the role of Grushinskaya, the Ballerina, as well as David Jackson and David White, the Jimmys who had some of the most enjoyable songs of the night. And in a “special guest star” turn, Judy Kaye (who had nothing to do with Grand Hotel except play matchmaker that made the elements all come together in a backstory well-told by Willison), sang a gorgeous solo. It was a song written for the Ballerina from a 1958 version of the show by the same composers for a Broadway bound production that never got out of San Francisco. Back then, the role was written for an opera diva, something Ms. Kaye knows a little about, and so performed a song no one has really heard in more than sixty years. Naturally, she was wonderful. Other notable cast members included: Timothy Jerome, Keith Crowningshield, Charles Mandracchia, Michael Piehl, Jill Powell, David White, Penny Worth and ensemble singers/dancers: Harper Lee Andrews, Emily Elizabeth Cobb, Katie Dixon, Matthew Drinkwater, John Drinkwater, Erin Marie, Vladimier Popov, Zachary Bordonaro and The Green Room 42’s program director, Daniel Dunlow.
All in all, Grand Hotel: the Musical (the reunion) provided the sort of nostalgia any fan of Broadway, and of this one-of-a-kind show in particular, would have been happy to attend.
Photos: Steve Friedman
Video: Magda Katz
November 11, 2019