THEATRE / Dancing in the lobby: Paul Taylor reviews Tommy Tune's Broadway musical Grand Hotel at the Dominion Theatre

TWO MEN are doing a stunning Charleston routine together, the debonair young Baron dancing with such negligent ease and speed and the little Jewish bookkeeper with such characterful zest that, when they raise their champagne glasses and sing a witty song that manages to tuck in toasts from various languages, you feel quite giddy with elation. Or at least you would, if it weren't for the fact that Kringelein, the little Jew, is supposed to be dying from a terminal illness and whatever else the terminally ill may do, you know that it is only in an American musical that they would be inclined to 'dance' their troubles away.

Kringelein (Barry James) is one of the paying guests at Grand Hotel, the Broadway musical of the Garbo-starring film of the Vicki Baum novel set in 1928 Berlin. He's blowing all his money on a last-ditch effort at living, but he's such an all-out sentimentalised symbol of honest, plucky life that this reviewer could hardly wait for his sickness to be fatal. Just in case you don't cotton on to the contrast this figure provides to the decadence, morbidity and shady morals around him, Barry Foster's chorus-like Colonel, an embittered, crippled doctor with a sardonic stage-side manner, helpfully spells it out: 'Look at him, he's dying and wants to live. I'm living and can't wait to die . . .' Now that's what I call a paradox.

To be fair, a great deal of this musical - with its tuneful, above- average songs by Robert Wright and George Forrest and dance routines by the director, Tommy Tune - is very entertaining. At the end, Kringelein may conclude that 'life resides in people, not places'. But one of the good things about the piece is that it also lets us see events from the perspective of the hotel which, forever reconstituting itself, is finally indifferent to the fates of all the various people who pass through its revolving doors - such as Liliane Montevecchi's faded ballet star, and her devoted lesbian companion (Debbie de Coudreaux); Brent Barrett in superb voice as the handsome, improvident Baron who falls in love with the ballerina when caught stealing her jewellery; and the excellent Lynnette Perry, who's like a tougher version of Monroe in the part of the pregnant stenographer with sights set on Hollywood.

A hotel is a tangle of storylines; you can't constrain it to any one genre. Sometimes, though, the show could bring this out rather more subtly. To have the young front-desk man crooning a ditty over the phone to his newly born son just as the hotel is trying to adjust to the fatal shooting of the Baron makes the point in a heavy- handed manner, although I liked the way the criminal types passing through the lobby at the time cast appropriately filthy looks at the carolling father.

There's an intermittent attempt to show us all levels of life in the hotel, the most oppressed layer being, it seems, the butch, bare- torsoed scullery men who appear once or twice and sing about haves and have-nots while bashing crates meaningfully. Overworked in the hotel, maybe, but they seem to have a nice cushy number in the musical.

Garbo was 26 when she played the role of the superannuated ballerina; Montevecchi, both touching and wittily self-mocking, is much more the right age to impersonate a dying swan. Her individual storyline is, of course, eventually engulfed in the endless soap-opera of the hotel, from which the cynical doctor cannot tear himself away. 'I'll stay one more day,' is his habitual concession. Indeed, if you want to see a musical, you could do far worse than check in to Grand Hotel.

Continues at the Dominion Theatre (Box office: 071-580 8845).

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'