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Triumphant, Magnificent, Grand Hotel

Gabor Csanyi--The Tech
Flaemmchen (Stacy J. Pruitt '99) dreams of a movie career in Grand Hotel.

By Teresa Huang
Staff Reporters

Although it was assembled in less than two months, MIT Dramashop's production of Grand Hotel is a triumph for everyone involved. The hard work of a skilled production staff and talented cast is apparent in this major production by Dramashop, which has again come through with a skilled and refined performance. Set in the Grand Hotel of Berlin in 1928, the musical tells the story of six guests, each coming to the hotel from different life situations and each encountering a life-changing experience. Some guests are merely passing through, while others come with no intention of leaving. However, time is running out for each of them.

The Baron, played by Seth Jacob Cooperman '99, is a hopelessly noble thief, living in splendor at the Grand Hotel on borrowed money that must be paid back. He is befriended by Otto Kringelein, played by Youngmoo Kim G, a dying man who arrives at the Grand Hotel to experience life one last time. Debbie Hyams G plays Elizaveta Grushinskaya, a famous ballerina on her eighth farewell tour, who travels to Berlin with her devoted companion Raffaela Ontonio, played by Sarah McDougal '00. Erick Tseng '01 plays General Director Preysing, a businessman reporting to his anxious stockholders. Stacy Pruitt '99 plays Flaemmchen, a typist who aspires to go to Hollywood, but faces an unexpected pregnancy.

Amidst the personal struggles in the spotlight of the show, the employees of the hotel surround the action, recreating the characteristic tension of the period between the rich guests and the poor working class.

Dramashop's interpretation of Grand Hotel plays with the notion of frames or layers. The show is presented on a stage surrounded by the audience on three sides and large scenic banners depicting life in the 1920's on all four sides. Rows of chairs line the stage, where chorus members sit in constant view, lending their voices and movements to the central action. At times, chorus members literally surround the main characters, filling the stage and adding a full texture to the show. Isolated from these layers of interaction is the Doctor, played by Patrick Wang '98. A cynical old man, the Doctor watches from an elevated corner of the set, offering his bitter narration and commentary to the show.

The look and feel of 1928 Berlin is further achieved through expert costume and set design. The set, designed by William Fregosi of the Theater Arts Department, is wide and effectively filled by the actors. Few props are used with the exception of chairs, which are beautifully worked into the show to represent walls, mirrors, and other elements of the hotel. The costumes, designed by Leslie Cocuzzo Held, also of the Theater Arts department, add another element of authenticity to the musical. She comments that the setting of the show "was such a decadent period. We think that the culture that we have and the clothes we wear today are so wild, but compared to the 1920's, they're nothing."

Indeed, the true power of Grand Hotel comes from the fact that it was written and presented on Broadway in 1989. Although the set and costume design are true to what we think the period was like, the way in which the main and supporting characters grapple with the issues in their lives is bold and modern. Scenes deal with characters' sexual orientation, infidelities, and obsessions.

Director Thomas DeFrantz agrees that Grand Hotel "is actually a very dark kind of piece about people who are very desperate, who try to maintain a facade of living well, but are actually all at the end of their ropes and don't know what to do next. The whole play is edgy. It's not a musical that gives you a lot of places to laugh and enjoy. It's a musical that tries to draw you into the drama of these people's lives."

The cast members of Grand Hotel give amazing performances, many reaching their highest potentials yet as actors under the expert direction of DeFrantz. Stacy Pruitt is stellar as Flaemmschen, singing on a Broadway level and embracing the complexity of her character in easily the most difficult role she's tackled while at MIT. Debbie Hyams gives another amazing theater performance as the fading ballerina Elizaveta. She carries her character's accent consistently and effectively through the musical, and also creates a believable romance with Seth Cooperman. Seth turns in a nice performance as well, filling his baron's wingtips with a beautiful mix of class and sleaziness. Patrick Wang, a relative newcomer to the acting scene at MIT, lends his talents to the old handicapped Doctor, bringing a bitter edge to the transitions and narration of the show. And Youngmoo Kim shines on stage, a dancing fool who can change his beat faster than the pit, and who successfully pulls off an Asian Jew. His powerful lungs fill La Sala, and nimble legs gracefully propel him across the stage. On the whole, the lead cast and supporting chorus members show maturity and great attention to timing and nuance.

The roles in this show are demanding because they often require the actors to dance and sing at the same time. Rather than shying away from this challenge, the cast gives themselves up to the constant movement of the show. The dance numbers are fantastic, with the rousing number "We'll Take a Glass Together" being one of the highlights of the show. Also excellent is the Bolero number danced by Yuying Chen G and Lajos Molnar G, here meant to represent the cruel dance between true love and death.

No moment is boring. Every second is filled with music, movement, and excitement. Grand Hotel is more than grand, it's magnificent.

Grand Hotel, MIT Dramashop

Book by Luther Davis Music and Lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest

Based on the novel by Vicki Baum

Additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston

Directed and choreographed by Thomas DeFrantz

Starring Seth Jacob Cooperman 99, Debbie Hyams G, Youngmoo Kim G, Sarah McDougal 00, Stacey J. Pruitt 99, Erick Tseng 01, and Patrick Wang 98

La Sala de Puerto Rico

Tonight at 8 p.m.

Joel Rosenberg contributed to the reporting of this story.