Gabor Csanyi--The Tech
By Teresa Huang
The members of MIT's Dramashop will test their musical legs this weekend with the opening of one of the group's biggest endeavors to date, Grand Hotel. Directed by Assistant Professor in Theater Arts Tommy DeFrantz, this musical draws together the talents of actors, designers, and musicians from around the MIT community into what is sure to be an impressive result.
Grand Hotel premiered on Broadway on Nov. 12, 1989 and was nominated for 12 Tony awards in 1990. It won the awards for Best Actor, Best Director, Best Costume Design, Best Lighting Design, and Best Choreographer. The show is based on the novel of the same name by Vicki Baum and deals with the lives of the guests of the Grand Hotel in Berlin in 1928. Through the guests of the hotel, the musical explores themes like the struggle between glamour and poverty and the truth that hides under the appearance of success. The show features an incredible amount of music and dance, ranging from the Charleston to the tango to the waltz. The musical was written by Luther Davis, Robert Wright, and George Forrest, with additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, who also wrote music and lyrics for the 1997 Tony Award winning musical Titanic.
Director Tommy DeFrantz comes to this production with an abundance of choreography and directing experience with groups such as the Montclair Theatrefest and the Drama League of New York. His choreography work can be seen in the George C. Wolfe production of On The Town, which should reach Broadway in the fall. The process began last term when DeFrantz decided he wanted to do a musical as part of his term as director of Dramashop's Independent Activities Period production. I spoke with him after a rehearsal, and he said he chose Grand Hotel because he "wanted to do something very big to get as many people as possible involved with it - something that would really make some sort of visual statement that would be a lot of fun for a lot of people." Indeed, Grand Hotel is an ambitious project for a student theater group to tackle, even with faculty guidance.
Auditions were held in the beginning of December, drawing almost a hundred potential actors from the MIT community. A large 37 member cast was chosen, featuring some of MIT's best actors in lead roles, including Seth Jacob Cooperman '99 as the Baron, Debbie Hyams G as the ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya, Sarah McDougal '00 as Elizaveta's companion Raefaella Ontonio, and Stacy J. Pruitt '99 as Flaemmchen. Day-long rehearsals, which involved morning dance practice, afternoon scene work, and full company rehearsals in the evening, started at the beginning of the IAP in January. The cast continued their work through the beginning of spring term.
The sheer size of the show's demanding score and dance repertoire was a real challenge for the cast. "We chose the show because it's very challenging and very difficult," said DeFrantz. "It has a layered texture to it where several scenes are happening simultaneously. The music is complex, but [the show] is also short, so it has a lot going on in a very short amount of time. My experience with MIT students was that this kind of challenge would be very attractive as opposed to Oklahoma or Carousel, more traditional musicals where scenes happen and then there's a song and then there's a dance and everything's very separate. I thought the challenge would appeal and it did. It has."
DeFrantz said that the production would be engaging. "The staging is sort of a thrust or three-quartered round where the audience is on all sides. Depending on where you sit you'll see a completely different show. Different scenes will be more important to you, different scenes will be closer to you, [others] will be farther back," he said. "I did that on purpose to underscore this idea of foregrounding and backgrounding which is in the script. It's going to be a challenge for our audience to allow themselves to enjoy that and not be frustrated by it. You really have to give yourself up to the experience of it."
With direction and design from faculty of the Theater Arts Department and a talented cast that represents some of MIT's best, Grand Hotel is sure to be a hit.