Grand Hotel review – roaring 20s musical, staged with glittering panache

Southwark Playhouse, London
Perfectly drilled dance, stunning vocals and stylish direction fuel this cross-section of luxury hotel life in 20s Berlin

This musical, based on Vicki Baum’s portmanteau novel, has had a chequered history. It folded on the road in the 1950s, had a successful Broadway debut in 1989, flopped in the West End in 1992 and was sharply revived by the Donmar in 2004. Even if it remains a minor musical, it is now directed with style and speed by Thom Southerland, and wittily choreographed by Lee Proud.

The book is by Luther Davis, the music and lyrics by George Forrest and Robert Wright – who gave us, not that we really needed it, Kismet – and Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic) is responsible for additional songs. Collectively, what they provide is a cross-section of life in a deluxe Berlin hotel in 1928 where everyone, including the choric figure of a cynical, mainlining doctor, exists in a state of desperation. Too many stories are told to leave us deeply engaged, but the show flares into life during its big numbers. The opening offers a stunning, perfectly drilled introduction to the sleekly clad guests and staff, and a subsequent foxtrot and charleston evoke the hectic exuberance of the 20s. As in so many recent musicals (Mack and Mabel, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) dance dominates the show.

There are also some strong individual performances. Scott Garnham as a bankrupt baron sings excellently; Christine Grimandi invests the old Garbo role of a fading ballerina with the right solitary grandeur; and George Rae as a dying bookkeeper yearning for a taste of the high life is full of anxious pathos. Even if the final, directorial hint of impending Nazism is a touch forced, the show is staged with such glittering panache that you readily overlook its faults.

• At Southwark Playhouse, London, until 5 September. Box office: 020-7407 0234.


Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Life review – New York's sleazy underbelly gets a musical sparkle
This show about 42nd Street in the 1980s is imaginatively staged with the ever-magnificent Sharon D Clarke but it’s a tough sell

Michael Billington

29, Mar, 2017 @11:00 PM

Article image
Carrie review – Stephen King shocker gets a High School Musical makeover
A mesmerising performance by Evelyn Hoskins as the flame-haired teenage avenger fires this revival of the RSC’s slaughterhouse Cinderella

Lyn Gardner

07, May, 2015 @4:17 PM

Article image
Bananaman review – can Eric Wimp turn into a musical superhero?
After some banana-skin slip-ups, this comedy about the spotty teenager turned caped blunderer gathers some final, resounding laughter

Kate Wyver

05, Jan, 2018 @2:29 PM

Article image
Promises, Promises review – Bacharach's musical makeover of Wilder's Apartment
A revival of Neil Simon’s adaptation of the Billy Wilder classic, with songs by Bacharach and Hal David, is well performed but gratingly anachronistic

Michael Billington

18, Jan, 2017 @11:28 AM

Article image
Bat Boy: The Musical review – Edward Scissorhands meets Rocky Horror
Rob Compton is terrific as the hero of this B-movie-style musical, but the full-blooded production overwhelms the space, writes Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner

15, Jan, 2015 @1:09 PM

Company – review
Despite some memorable songs, this production of Sondheim's 1970 musical about marriage is sluggish and strained, writes Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner

10, Feb, 2011 @5:35 PM

Article image
Titanic – review

Of course this Broadway Titanic musical is sentimental, but both score and book are classy stuff, writes Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner

01, Aug, 2013 @4:32 PM

Article image
Strictly Ballroom: The Musical review – utterly ridiculous, totally joyous
The stage version of Baz Luhrmann’s movie gives the audience a good time and there are moments when Drew McOnie’s choreography burns up the floor

Lyn Gardner

08, Dec, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Yeast Nation: The Triumph of Life review – a defeat for theatre
Musical set on the prehistoric ocean floor and starring singing yeast particles is a swampy mess

Arifa Akbar

27, Jul, 2022 @12:25 PM

Article image
Working review – Lin-Manuel Miranda retunes Terkel's paean to American labour
This musical revue – which originally flopped on Broadway – features exquisite performances and songs by Hamilton’s creator but still feels quaintly nostalgic

Lyn Gardner

09, Jun, 2017 @10:53 AM