IF YOU GO
What: Musical about the adventures of guests at a 1928 Berlin luxury hotel
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Dec. 7 and 14.
Where: G&L Theatre on the campus of Community School of Naples, 13275 Livingston Road, Naples
Information: 888-966-3352 or theatrezone-florida.com
Something Else: Tickets are extremely limited for the rest of the run. Call now.
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
NAPLES — After several seasons of mediocre musicals, Mark Danni has finally found a formula that works at TheatreZone. "Grand Hotel," a celebration of life at Berlin's best boarding place, marks a second consecutive triumph for the group. Music, dance and creative elements combine for a brilliant night.
"Grand Hotel," based on a 1929 novel, traces events at an elegant hostelry over one weekend in 1928. The 1989 Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Tommy Tune, snagged 12 Tony nominations and ran for 1,017 performances.
I've often been tough on Danni for trying to wedge full-scale musicals onto TheatreZone's small stage. He and choreographer Karen Molnar deserve full credit here for taking a mammoth 33-person cast, chopping it to 16 and preserving both the show's rhythm and making it look fluid on stage. Their refurbishment of "Grand Hotel" represents a sublime palace that beckons for guests of every stripe.
The show that remains has been whittled down to the basics: lies, deception, deceit, truth, beauty, honesty. Think of it as "Moulin Rouge" in Berlin. Basically, being deceitful gets you nowhere, while being pure means you stand a chance of coming out ahead. But anything can happen in the hallways of the "Grand Hotel!"
Danni takes a chainsaw to the show, completely re-imagining it as a mostly sung-through musical with minimal staging, evocative choreography and brilliant, powerful acting. The success of this formula augers well for the upcoming "Next to Normal."
With more than half the characters (most of them minor) from the Broadway cast eliminated, some plotlines are condensed or mashed together. A 28-song list is cut to 17. Danni originally planned the show without an intermission, as it was performed on Broadway; he added one to accommodate Southwest Florida audiences. I understand the move (and won't argue the necessity), but the show would have been better served without it.
Faced with the prospect of a stage full of people, Molnar made her choreography both aggressively grand and beautifully simple. Repetition, whether it be sweeping circles, the tight turns of a waltz or the arc of the cast whirling and swirling through the multiple drapes attracts the eye and dazzles the mind.
One of the night's best sequences sees Byron DeMent (so effective as the cancer-stricken Kringelein) leading a rousing Charleston. DeMent and TheatreZone favorite Larry Alexander face the audience, kicking, twisting and turning while the ensemble faces upstage, hands in the air, also kicking.
DeMent's character has just months to live, but the Grand Hotel has given him a new lease on life. Emboldened by liquor and dance, he leaps into the spirit of the Roaring Twenties. As the music plays louder, the legs kick higher and the dance grows more frenetic. Louder. Higher. Faster. A whirl of merriment - with DeMent and Alexander giving the audience glee with every kick.
Victoria Regan brings a frosty elegance to her faded ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya. Her icy demeanor (and sumptuous furs) suggest her frozen heart. Regan turns - on pointe, no less - to show audiences her vulnerability and longing for the life she gave up for dance. A thrilling, soaring love scene with Alexander (tastefully staged) proves a highlight.
Danni cast the show, especially the supporting roles, extremely well - perhaps better than any TheatreZone production in the past few years.
Megan Jimenez practically steals the show as blonde bombshell wannabe Flaemmchen, a typist with big dreams, no savings and not much sense. Jimenez gives an electrifying show as she dances her dreams with "Girl in the Mirror" and accompanies the delightful Two Jimmy's (Aaron Reeder, Gaston Edmond) on "Maybe My Baby." She holds her own in scenes with Alexander and Allan Baker's dastardly Preysing.
Take note of Daniel Schwab. The young man in the assistant concierge uniform sees part of his plot cut, but he gives emphatic life to a man desperate for promotion - and with a wife in the hospital. Dawn Lebrecht carries the original mobster scenes with a leering grin, a pistol and a wise-cracking attitude. Her outlandish wig might be one of the best visuals in the show.
Costume Kathleen Kolacz recovers from the "Forum" misadventure with a solid take on the Jazz Age. Smart uniforms in red and black tie the Grand Hotel staff together without having them look all the same. White fox furs for Regan add luxury, while Alexander's nobleman looks sleek in buff colors.
I applaud that Chris Rich manages a two-story set on the TheatreZone stage. Minimal art deco touches in the paint and bannisters give some character, but the bright red cloth used for the Grand Hotel drapery feels more functional than first-class.
Charles Fornara's seven-piece band brings "Grand Hotel" - and its 1920s tunes - to life like few at TheatreZone. I was tapping my foot right along to the Charleston. The show's music - and the band - is superb.
On opening night, TheatreZone experienced multiple issues with the wireless microphones. The mic for Jimenez repeatedly dropped in and out; others for DeMent and Regan crackled or whined with feedback when the actors sat down or moved against furniture. Spotlights also visibly wandered drunkenly during scenes.
TheatreZone is now two for two in the 2012-13 season. "Grand Hotel" dazzles with amazing voices, clever choreography and a powerful, touching mix of deeply moving stories. Look (and listen) for Byron DeMent as a dying account and Megan Jimenez as an ambitious secretary. Check in today!
What's the best hotel you've ever stayed in? Email me, email@example.com. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.
Full Disclosure: TheatreZone founder and artistic director Mark Danni writes a monthly column about theater, titled "Floodlights," for the Naples Journal. My direct supervisor, Penny Fisher, manages production of the Naples Journal.