Grand Hotel, performed by students from Guildhall School of Music & Drama at Silk Street Theatre, London, continues until 16 July.
Step into the Guildhall’s super-smart Silk Street Theatre beside the Barbican, take in the sumptuously opulent set representing the foyer of Europe’s grandest hotel in the Weimar Berlin of the late 1920s, and you just know before curtain-up that you are in for a visual feast.
Even the arty programme cover oozes upper class for the final-year students’ interpretation of the five-time Tony Award-winning Grand Hotel, a glorious throwback to an age of grace and style, which director Martin Connor has captured quite brilliantly with huge assists from the elegant, intricate routines of award-winning choreographer Bill Deamer (Top Hat) and designer Morgan Large’s no-expense-spared set.
Taken from Vicki Baum’s 1929 novel Menschen Im Hotel, with book by Luther Davis and music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, beefed up by six Maury Yeston songs later added, this is the story of the hotel’s comings-and-goings over the course of a weekend, which Baum should have known all about as she worked as a maid at the plush hotel on which her novel was based.
Some of the supposedly wealthy clients are dodgy characters, including a debt-ridden baron being hounded by the mob, a depressed fading Russian ballerina (indelibly played by ‘I vant to be alone’ Greta Garbo in the 1932 non-musical movie), a terminally-ill Jewish bookkeeper wanting to spend his final days in five-star splendour, a cynical doctor on drugs, a leader of industry with kinky tastes and a typist dreaming of Hollywood fame and fortune.
It is the ideal Guildhall swansong for graduates who turn professional at the end of this eight-day run as it showcases 36 performers and 30 musicians under the baton of MD Steven Edis.
The four leads, Jay Saighal as the handsome but penniless baron, Ceri-Lyn Cissone as the Russian prima ballerina, Rebecca Collingwood as the upwardly-mobile typist, and Joey Phillips as the wasting away ex-bookkeeper, all prove more than good enough to suggest they will make decent livings at this ferociously difficult game.
Collingwood, a little lady with plenty of oomph who has a good belt on her which she uses to great effect in the showstopping ‘Girl in the Mirror’ (also known as ‘I Want to Go to Hollywood’) and can also act and move with the best, is particularly impressive, while Saighal has tremendous stage presence and a strong voice and Phillips gets into character so well that we are delighted he gets the girl for a final fling.
The chief supports, Simon Haines as the doctor, Jordan Renzo as a concierge nervously awaiting the birth of his son, and Ben Hall, very Germanic as the multi-national company director who plays away, are also pleasing while Dominic Spillane makes the most of his big solo ‘Everybody’s Doing It’ and Robbie Carpenter extracts all the humour from his cameo as a chauffeur working for the mob.
Providing eye-catching interludes from the main drama, Joe Eyre and Kaffe Keating do a good turn as two song-and-dance entertainers and Leah Rolfe and Adelmo Mandia, stunning in black, give us a wicked tango.
My only problem is with the score: a musical stands or falls by its songs and there is little you remember on the way out. Yeston has provided the two best numbers in ‘Girl in the Mirror’ and the lovely duet ‘Love Can’t Happen’ to which Saighal and Cissone do full justice. But the rest is okay without being memorable, although that is in no way the fault of the orchestra which plays quite beautifully.
Running almost two hours without an interval (but billed as lasting only 100 minutes), the last section could do with a trim or a bit of a speed-up, but this Grand Hotel is a five-star luxury-suite production at a three-star bargain-break price. Entertainment with a capital E and Class with a capital C.