Grand Hotel | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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GRAND HOTEL, Circle Theatre. The music may sweeten and the lyrics trivialize Vicki Baum's novel and play (source of the classic 1932 film, with Garbo, Joan Crawford, and the Barrymores). Still, the Robert Wright-George Forrest musical adaptation preserves the desperation of Baum's frightened folk, who define themselves by their escapes.

Set in pre-Depression Berlin in Europe's most expensive lodgings, Grand Hotel throws together a fading ballerina, a thieving but noble baron, a dying Jewish accountant, his robber baron boss, and a starstruck secretary. Their travails, whether doomed or successful, provide sly amusement to the jaded, shell-shocked doctor who serves as sardonic chorus. So does the score, interrupting the plot's swirl with the period pep of "We'll Take a Glass Together," the swing fervor of "Maybe My Baby Loves Me," and the sentimental languor of "Who Couldn't Dance With You?"

Kevin Bellie's revival, though less than grand, packs passion into its nonstop 110 minutes, particularly in the relentless Jazz Age choreography. Designer Robert Knuth's less than awesome lobby may become crowded to bursting, but it's never dull. Among the cast, Patty Corella as the secretary, Rob Hatzenbeller as the baron, and (though she's not old enough to "want to be alone") Brocki Luton in the Garbo role of the depressed dancer are especially strong. Still, some toning down would help: there's a stridency to the performances that makes every scene resound like a climax.

--Lawrence Bommer

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