Grand Hotel

Date 6th May 2016
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue Council Chambers
Type of Production Musical
Director Richard Aaron Davies
Musical Director Andy Davies
Choreographer Sophie Handley

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Author: Kevin Proctor

Although never actually seeing this show in its entirety before, being somewhat of a Tommy Tune fan (the original Director/Choreographer), I had of course heard of it, read about it and watched the odd clip from the show on the internet. This musical is set in 1920’s Berlin in a luxury hotel as we see some selective glimpses into the lives of staff and guests over the course of a weekend. From what I knew about the show beforehand I wasn’t expecting to be welcomed by what I can only describe as zombie staff of the hotel; a chambermaid almost dragging one leg behind her and a bell boy eyeballing the audience with a death stare amongst other very depressed and awkward deathly looking bodies creepily going about their duties. Maybe this show was not what I had perceived? I certainly don’t recall any zombie inspired characters when looking into this show before. Some members of the cast entertained us with some sedate lounge covers of Gershwin (and the like) whilst we waited for the show to begin, which was nice.

I’m not sure that the idea to obliterate the glittering panache elements of the show was a wise move given that the premise of the book is rather morbid to begin with and I felt that hanging almost all of the director’s vision on one line, delivered by Flaemmchen in the final scene “We’re all dying” (which, I sensed was supposed to be a reassuring comment to Otto to help him appreciate each day he has left) was perhaps an idea which delivered a show which was far from being what it is supposed to be. I appreciate that the musical itself may not have as much excitement or significance for many to grab onto as far as musicals go, and I fully understand the desire to try and find something quirky for an original presentation of a show but, personally, focusing such intensity on a grim and sullen ambiance onto an already gloomy book didn’t really do the show any favours.

A reoccurring problem for UMMTS was more exposed than ever during this production as I missed so much of the lib - I’d say ¾  of the show was drowned out by underscoring, I simply couldn’t hear anything other than the music. Sadly, in the interval I wasn’t quite sure I was following the show at all as a result of missing so much of what was going on.                                                     I enjoyed a short lived feature role, Zinnowitz played by Mia Nuttgens and rather liked the several telephone operator appearances which were very stylised and twee.

Back in the council chambers for this production, the staging was back to how it works best for this venue, with the audience sat on three sides with an avenue style performance space, the set was simple to suggest the setting with some flats on trucks and vintage style light bulbs hung above the performance space. I kept noticing neat touches around the space during the performance such as collections of vintage picture frames suspended above and small table lamps scattered amongst the audience’s seats. Technically, lighting wise, we’re continuing to see improvements with each UMMTS show with more creativity and moods being created. I would like to have the same compliments for the sound team.

Some of the choreography by Sophie Handley was very picturesque and communicated the correct style of this era though I cannot ignore that at times the movement seemed rather clumsy and heavy footed. Three girls had been selected as feature dancers and donned the typical flapper attire but with un-matching footwear which proved to be rather distracting. One of the three feature girls was not as precise or as clean with her sequences as the others (the one with clumpy footwear!) which did let their presentation down somewhat.

As for the principal players, we were treated to some worthy enactments by Joe Dickens as Otto, Cait O’Sullivan as Flaemmchen but leaving the biggest impressions for me were Melanie O’Hagan as Elizaveta and Matthew Quinn as Von Gaigern who both sung superbly and offered the most poignant and commanding of the plot lines.  

Making the biggest statements musically was the ensemble vocals, UMMTS never fail to bestow us with a magnificent sound when it comes to choral singing, all the MD’s who take the baton ensure quality in this area which is always impressive.

The orchestra of twenty certainly were a delight for the ears, however, reverting back to my previous comment, needed to be controlled to play softer when underscoring as the beautiful sound became more of an interference than a pleasure.