Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Director Eric Schaeffer has crowded the stage of the MAX Theatre with 16 acting, singing, and dancing powerhouses, most of whom play numerous roles. Paul Tate dePoo III's scenic design and Colin K. Bills' lighting offer burnished walls and metallic openwork around the balcony and the orchestra loft, a pair of staircases, practical lighting overhead and from wall sconces, occasional washes of mood-setting colored light, and a fine parquet floor. Robert Perdziola's costumes follow a monochrome color scheme, standing out through ornamentation and elaborate prints rather than color.
Despite the luxe atmosphere, the refrain throughout the musicalbook by Luther Davis, music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, based on Vicki Baum's novel and play and the Academy Award-winning 1932 film adaptationis "Time is running out." The central characters are dealing with personal and professional difficulties while the scullery staff and chambermaids lurk in a corridor, nursing their resentments against the rich people they serve.
Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Natascia Diaz), an aging prima ballerina, fears no longer being able to dance. Gallant Baron Felix von Gaigern (Nkrumah Gatling) insists on living beyond his means, which has gotten him into trouble with mobsters. Hermann Preysing (Kevin McAllister) has staked his company's success on a problematic merger. Flaemmchen (Nicki Elledge), an underpaid typist, is determined to try her luck in Hollywood. Otto Kringelein (Bobby Smith), a bookkeeper in Preysing's company, is dying but wants a bit of the high life before he goes. Watching over them is Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag (Lawrence Redmond), an embittered war veteran with an eyepatch and a morphine habit. They and others around them interact in almost two hours, without intermission, of swirling movement animated by Kelly Crandall D'Amboise's choreography and underscored by six musicians conducted from the piano by Evan Rees.
Smith, whose 20 Signature credits range from A Little Night Music and Titanic to his Helen Hayes Award-honored performance in La Cage aux Folles, once again inhabits his role. He becomes the shy, stoop-shouldered Kringelein, experiencing luxury with wide-eyed amazement, and eventually breaking out of his shell in a memorable dance number. Gatling shines as a man who, despite bad choices, is truly noble to the people around him. Diaz glows, Elledge depicts a woman driven by both desperation and hope, and Ian Anthony Coleman and Solomon Parker III sparkle in their high-spirited dance numbers.