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“Never in a million years would you guess that GRAND HOTEL – now brilliantly revived at the Southwark Playhouse – is one of Broadway’s great rescue jobs. That something seemingly so organic, so cohesive, so intricate, could have reached the final stages of production in such trouble that even a force of nature like Maury Yeston must have wondered if it were salvagable at all simply beggers belief. George Forrest and Robert Wright were, of course, famous for recycling other people’s music and making hit songs out of hit tunes but the changes that Yeston made, the new songs and subsequent restructuring, can be equated in my mind with Verdi’s wholesale transformation of Simon Boccanegra through the addition, in large part, of a single (albeit inspired) scene. I’ve watched Yeston at work at the BMI Music Theatre Advanced Workshop in New York and can vouch for his astonishing nose for what is wrong and how (if at all possible) it might be put right. Sometimes it’s a tiny thing, sometimes it’s simply a change of emphasis – but you can’t buy instincts like that.

And so GRAND HOTEL found its form, and that form – so manifest in the imperative drive of the ensembles – necessitated yoking a great choreographer to a great director (Tommy Tune combining both roles in the original Broadway production) and making physical the intricate counterpointing of characters and their stories. At Southwark the trick is never knowing where director Thom Southerland leaves off and choreographer Lee Proud steps in, and vice versa. It’s the seamless symbiosis between them that enables us quite literally to see the complex musical counterpoint in action – to see the way individual stories coalesce or impact upon each other, to make balletic the feverish comings and goings in a great hotel as it hurtles towards one of the darkest phases of its history. Berlin in the 1920s.

With limited space and limited budget (nothing like it for concentrating the imagination) – a chequered floor, a chandelier, some chairs – Southerland and Proud quite brilliantly convey the freneticism of a race against time, of changing times, of impending catastrophe. The smell of death is always in the air. Individuals shine (producer Danielle Tarento’s casting very much on the money) but it is this mess of human kind in flux that really makes the piece sing – and the singing is, in this concentrated space, thrilling. Such dense and often astringent counterpoint is rare in a Broadway show and definitely sets GRAND HOTEL apart.

There are, of course, the inevitable echoes of, indeed parallels with, Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret and Southerland pulls off an absolutely chilling dénoument where the shape of things to come are brought horribly into focus and we the audience are suddenly, unwittingly, complicit. I didn’t see that coming.” EDWARD SECKERSON, The Public Reviews