Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Grand Hotel
Fountain Hills Theater
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Oliver!, Wonderland: Alice's Rock & Roll Adventure, Hir, and The Producers


Alex Gonzalez and Cast
Photo by Patty Torrilhon
In 1989 Grand Hotel, based on the the 1932 Oscar winning Best Picture that starred Greta Garbo and John Barrymore and the novel by Vicki Baum, was turned into a Tony winning musical. With multiple characters, overlapping storylines, and an opening sequence that is fast paced and very fractured in how it introduces over a dozen characters, including the numerous guests and workers at the hotel, it's an incredibly intriguing musical but also one that is very difficult to get right. Tommy Tune directed and choreographed the Broadway production and his sleek dance moves and continual movement helped form these divergent stories into a seamless whole. Fountain Hills Theater's production has plenty of talent and good direction but with some miscasting and an often overstuffed stage it doesn't always succeed.

Set in 1928 Berlin, Grand Hotel is narrated by a drug-imbibing doctor, who claims he has no reason for living and focuses mainly on a few main guests at the hotel: fading ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Janine Smith), who is on yet another one of her farewell tours; her devoted friend Raffaela (Hilary Hirsch), who has a big secret; typist Flaemmchen (Tina Khalil), who hopes to find success in Hollywood at any cost; the suave Baron, who also happens to be a jewel thief (Alex Gonzalez); businessman Preysing (Scott Hyder), who is on the brink of bankruptcy; and Otto Kringelein (Roger Prenger), a sickly man who is trying to finally have some life experiences before he dies.

The score by Robert Wright and George Forrest, with additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, features a few soaring ballads and upbeat group numbers. But it also includes many shorter songs and repeated song segments that, along with Luther Davis' fragmented book, don't allow much emotional connection to take place between the audience and the characters. As soon as many of the songs and scenes begin they are quickly over and we move on to another character and storyline. However, the show's focus on the darker side of life with only hints of life's positive aspects and the dizzying nature of these disparate characters and their individual stories all happening at the same time in this one hotel make it a show unlike any other. For that I truly appreciate the interweaving of so many characters and plots into a mostly coherent piece and the incredibly theatrical nature of the show itself.

Director Peter J. Hill and choreographer Noel Irick model most of their contributions off what Tommy Tune did for the Broadway production, creating a keen sense of frenzy and mayhem in the bustling hotel lobby through a combination of dance and movement yet also highlighting the relevant moments and individual characters of the show. A few roles are unfortunately miscast with actors being either somewhat too old or too young, or too over the top for the mostly caricature parts. There are some highlights in the casting, including Janine Smith's excellent portrayal of a ballerina past her prime in life yet finding a flickering light of youthful hope from an encounter with a stranger. Also, Scott Hyder forms an incredibly realistic Preysing, not overplaying the creepier aspects of this man, especially when he attempts to talk typist Flaemmchen into doing more for him than she is originally hired to do. As Flaemmchen, Tina Khalil emotes plenty of pathos for this desperate woman, while Hilary Hirsch is appropriately reserved in showing how she is unable to let her true feelings for Elizaveta be known.

Hill's set design creates the feeling of a bustling and slightly glamorous lobby, though the postage stamp sized stage means that there are many moments when the entire cast is on stage and there isn't much room for them all to move. Kayla Ethridge and Cristen Fortier's costumes are period and character appropriate while Jennifer Whiting's musical direction of the large cast and small band works well, especially for the large group numbers.

Long after seeing it on Broadway back in 1989 I continue to admire Grand Hotel and how it doesn't try to stick to the traditional format for a Broadway show. While Fountain Hills' production is competent and has a few good performances, there are a few elements that don't allow it to truly soar.

Fountain Hills Theater's production of Grand Hotel runs through May 7th, 2017, at 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd. in Fountain Hills. Information on tickets can be found at www.fhtaz.org or by calling 480-837-9661.

Producer: Allison Hacker Director: Peter J. Hill
Music Director: Jennifer Whiting
Choreographer: Noel Irick
Stage Manager: Patty Torrilhon
Stage Manager: Linda Ferington
Set/Light Design: Peter J. Hill
Sound Design: Todd Carrie
Properties: Bob and Alisa Feugate
Costume Design: Kayla Ethridge and Cristen Fortier
Hair & Makeup: Mary Beth Ingram and Patsy Johnson

Cast:
Doorman: Lew Myers
Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag: Matt McDonald
Count: Peter J. Hill
Countess/Madame Peepee: Darrah MacDougall
Rohna: Harold LeBoyer
Erik: Nicholas Hambruch
Jenny: Katie Lambert
Jenny: J. Jay Rangel
Chauffeur: Michael Stewart
Zinnowitz: Ted Hance
Sandor: Mark Burkett
Witt: Henry Male
Hermann Preysing: Scott Hyder
Flaemmchen: Tina Khalil
Otto Kringelein: Roger Prenger
Baron Felix von Gaigern: Alex Gonzalez
Raffaela: Hilary Hirsch
Elizaveta Grushinskaya: Janine Smith
Ensemble: Heidi Carpenter, Kimberly Sheperd, Kayla Etheridge, JT Turner, Casey Karapetian, Chris Chavez, Karl Perry, Tom Vinopal


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