Wright State enters the glamorous ‘Grand Hotel’

The rarely staged musical will close its season.

Wright State University will bring its 2012-13 season to a glamorous close with Luther Davis, Robert Wright, George Forrest and Maury Yeston’s 1989 Tony Award-nominated Best Musical “Grand Hotel,” opening Thursday. The show is based on the 1932 Academy Award-winning Best Picture of the same name.

Set in 1928 Berlin, “Grand Hotel” weaves an assortment of intriguing characters in its tuneful, dark account of life, death, deception, finances and love. Among the colorful guests are a cash-strapped Baron, a dying bookkeeper, a typist longing for film stardom, a cynical doctor, an ethically challenged businessman, and an aging ballerina with her devoted secretary.

“Each main character comes into the story as a flawed human with struggles, particularly monetary struggles,” said director Marya Spring Cordes, who previously staged “Picnic” and “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” for WSU. “ ‘Grand Hotel’ is a beautiful show, but the audience is meeting the characters in a moment in their lives where they are striving for their hopes and dreams (while) confronted with something very serious. As soon as you meet them, you find this out. One lyric in particular talks about how people come and people go as if the hotel is a revolving door for all humanity. When the plotlines are tied up, there is still hope but the audience has gone through a complete arc with each person.”

Cordes, who helmed a terrific regional premiere of “Managing Maxine” for the Human Race Theatre Company earlier this season, has been fascinated with “Grand Hotel” since viewing the original Broadway production, masterfully conceived by the legendary Tommy Tune who won Tonys for his direction and choreography. She feels the show’s intricate and complex integration of story, music and dance in addition to the need for a large ensemble contributes to its rarely attempted status in this region.

“ ‘Grand Hotel’ arrived before the era of through-composed musicals, but it almost has that quality,” she said. “There are only a few moments in the show that does not contain the component of underscoring. And in those moments it is particularly impactful because silence means something as opposed to silence being the norm. And originally, there were over 40 people in the show. I think there is a way to scale it down, but if you’re going to be true to Tommy Tune’s vision you have to have enough bodies. Also, the title indicates something happy or fluffy, but it’s not that kind of show at all. The cast, who are truly capable of the depths of the acting as well as being vocally gifted, has had a lot of fun delving into a musical that is set in the same era as ‘42nd Street’ but with a completely opposite tone.”

The principal cast includes Riley Able, Justin King, Taryn Lemmons, Mathys Herbert, Andrew Quiett, Sierra Stacy and Beth Ann Wipprecht. Guest choreographer Suzanne Winland, who works with ballet troupes in Washington, D.C., and Akron and participated in the original developmental workshop of “A Chorus Line.” The creative team also includes scenic designer Pam Knauert Lavarnway (“Funny Girl,” “Hairspray,” “August: Osage County”), lighting designer Matthew P. Benjamin (“Hairspray”), costume designer D. Bartlett Blair (“Funny Girl,” “42nd Street”), sound designer James Dunlap, and properties by John Lavarnway.

The attractive score includes “I Want to Go to Hollywood,” “Bonjour Amour,” “Maybe My Baby Loves Me,” “Love Can’t Happen,” “Roses at the Station” and the infectiously rousing “We’ll Take a Glass Together.”

“At the end of ‘Grand Hotel,’ ” said Cordes, “I hope audiences reflect on what they would do or not do for money. I also hope they take away the fact that life isn’t always pretty, but it always is human.”

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