Sleek and stylish ‘Grand Hotel’ checks in at the Merry-Go-Round (Review)

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In 1928 at Berlin’s Grand Hotel, everything is dripping in sophistication and luxury. Hanging over this moment are two looming and interlocking catastrophes, the Great Depression that will engulf the world and the rise of the Nazis in Germany. But at as seen in the musical “Grand Hotel,” now onstage at Auburn’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse as part of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, everyone in this art deco palace is desperately dancing as fast as they can.

At the Grand Hotel, nothing is what it seems. The well-dressed characters may be keeping up a front, but they’re all miserable, and mostly broke. The impoverished young baron Geigern (Patrick Cummings) is being pursued by gangsters. Grushinskaya, an aging prima ballerina (Michele Ragusa) knows that her career is coming to an end and wants to end her farewell tour. Her confidante Raffaella (Kristen Gehling ) is secretly pining for her. Stenographer Flaemmchen (Samantha Sturm) dreams of being a film star. Kringelein (Dino Nicandos), a dying Jewish bookkeeper who wants to spend his last days in luxury, arrives at the hotel with his life savings. Captain of industry Preysing (Mark Hardy), his former boss, is there too, trying to save his company and his own job. Drug-addicted Doctor Otternschlag (Neal Benari) waxes philosophically, while designated everyman assistant concierge Erik (Sam Stoll) nervously awaits the birth of his first child.

As it was constructed by original director Tommy Tune, “Grand Hotel” is very much an exercise in style. Every moment is synchronized like a series of stylish gilded clocks. The biggest pitfall with this show is that its seamlessness can become relentlessness, but director and choreographer Brett Smock, aided by Michael Schweikardt’s sleek scenic design, deftly navigates the beehive of activity that is “Grand Hotel.”

While the German novel on which it is based and the all-star American film in 1932 were awash in sentimentality, the musical sometimes feels icy and calculated. Although the ensemble of characters clearly express what they want and need in a series of songs, because of the show’s construction we often can’t see them close-up. Everyone is part of a larger animated tapestry.

The “Grand Hotel” score is best in its few celebratory moments, which give the Baron, Flaemmchen, and Kringelein a chance to let loose as Cummings, Sturm, and Nicandros are winning in “Who Couldn’t Dance With You,” and “We’ll Take a Glass Together.”

Another high point is“Maybe My Baby” sung and danced by Flaemmchen and the two Jimmys ( Wesley Barnes and Darius Jordan Lee), African-American hoofers in Berlin.

Ragusa is compelling as Grushinskaya, but she and Cummings’ Baron have little romantic chemistry, and the machinations of plot give them little time to develop the relationship. The same is true of Hardy’s Preysing, who must quickly move from desperation to violent lust.

Perhaps because of its difficulty, “Grand Hotel” is not often revived, but crisp choreography, sharp ensemble work, and gleaming scenic design make FLMTF’s “Grand Hotel” a fine stop musical theater fans to check in.

The Details

What: “Grand Hotel,” produced by the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival.

Where: Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, Emerson Park, Auburn.

When seen: July 11.

Length of performance: 2 hours 5 minutes with intermission.

Family guide: Fine for high school age.

Run through: July 31.

Information: (315) 255-1785, 1-800-457-8897,

CNY Theater Guide

Play Company Dates
Mamma Mia! Cortland Repertory July 10 to 27
Grand Hotel Finger Lakes Musical Theater July 10 to 31
The Producers CNY Playhouse July 12 to 27
Damn Yankees Syracuse Summer Theatre | Oncenter July 19, 20, 26. 27, Aug. 2, 3, 4
Kinky Boots Hangar Theater July 19 to Aug. 3
Kafka’s Metamorphosis: The Musical Auburn Public Theater July 26, 27, Aug. 1, 2
Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka Baldwinsville Theater Guild July 26 to Aug. 4
Annie Get Your Gun Oswego Plalyers July 26, 27, 28, Aug. 2, 3, 4
Born Yesterday Cortland Repertory July 31 to Aug. 10
The Tempest Syracuse Shakespeare Aug. 2 to 11
South Pacific Finger Lakes Musical Theater Aug. 7 to 28
Little Women Hangar Theater Aug. 8 to 17
Our Lady of 121st Street CNY Playhouse Aug. 9 to 17
Sleuth Cortland Repertory Aug. 14 to 24
Big Play Festival Hangar Theater Aug. 22 to 31
Million Dollar Quartet Cortland Repertory Aug. 28 to Sept. 13
Working: The Musical Finger Lakes Musical Theater Sept. 4 to 21
Cold Read: Thoughts of Colored Man Syracuse Stage Sept. 4 to 22
Arsenic and Old Lace CNY Playhouse Sept. 6 to 21
Rent Redhouse Arts Center Sept. 19 to 29
Loch Ness A New Musical Finger Lakes Musical Theater Sept. 28 to Oct. 13
Jesus Christ Superstar Famous Artists Oct. 1 to 4
Twelve Angry Men Syracuse Stage Oct. 9 to 27
The Addams Family CNY Playhouse Oct. 11 to 26
I Take This Man Oswego Plalyers Oct. 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20
God of Carnage Redhouse Arts Center Nov. 7 to 17
Next Fall CNY Playhouse Nov. 8 to 16
Jersey Boys Famous Artists Nov. 12 and 13
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Syracuse Stage Nov. 22 to Jan. 5
Annie CNY Playhouse Dec. 6 to 21
Fairytale Courtroom Oswego Plalyers Dec. 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15
My Fair Lady Famous Artists Dec. 10 to 13
A Syracuse Christmas Carol Redhouse Arts Center Dec. 12 to 22
The Wolves Syracuse Stage Jan. 22 to Feb. 16
Romeo and Juliet Redhouse Arts Center Feb. 13 to 23
A Bronx Tale Famous Artists Feb. 18 to 20
Amadeus Syracuse Stage March 11 to 29
Fences Redhouse Arts Center March 23 to April 5
Riverdance Famous Artists March 24 to 26
Cold Read: A Festival of Hot New Plays Syracuse Stage April 1 to 5
I Hate Hamlet Syracuse Shakespeare April 17 to 26
Once Syracuse Stage April 15 to May 3
Miss Saigon Famous Artists April 28 to May 3
Yoga Play Syracuse Stage May 27 to June 14
Fun Home Redhouse Arts Center May 28 to June 7
An American in Paris Famous Artists June 2 to 4

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