Grand Hotel is a musical with music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, with additional music by Maury Yeston and Wally Harper, additional lyrics by Yeston, and a book by Luther Davis. The original production opened at Broadway's Martin Beck Theatre on November 12, 1989 and closed on April 25, 1992 after playing 1017 performances. The original production was directed by Tommy Tune and starred Karen Akers, David Carroll, Michael Jeter, Jane Krakowski, Liliane Montevecchi, and John Wylie. Early into the run, however, Carroll died and was replaced by Brent Barrett, who can be heard on the original cast recording.
Source Material: The Novel
Menschen im Hotel (People in a Hotel, 1929) started the career of Austrian popular novelist Vicki Baum as one of the most widely-read authors of her time. The story about a fading prima ballerina, an impecunious nobleman, and the other characters who pass through an elegant 1920s Berlin hotel in the course of a single weekend was told with an acute perception of minor detail. Baum had taken a job as a parlourmaid in a hotel for six weeks to gather material for her novel. She dramatized the text for the Berlin stage in the same year. The play turned into a sensation and its English language adaptation gained a huge success in New York in the early 1930s.
Source Material: The Film
Irving Thalberg, the famous MGM producer, got the synopsis of Baum's play in 1930 and decided that the story was ideally suited to a multi-star blockbuster. The film of Grand Hotel starred John Barrymore as Baron Felix von Gaigern and his brother Lionel as Kringelien, the invalid bookkeeper who has come to spend his dying days in the lap of luxury. The role of Grusinskaya, an aging prima ballerina, seemed perfect for Greta Garbo, and it was in this role that she uttered one of her most quoted lines:
Joan Crawford was chosen for the role of the stenographer, Flaemmchen. The last line of the picture was reserved for Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone): "Grand Hotel. Always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens." The gala opening of the film was held at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Grand Hotel won a Best Picture Oscar.
Source Material: At The Grand
Librettist Luther David and songwriters Wright and Forrest created a musical adaptation of Grand Hotel in 1958 entitled At The Grand. In this version, the ballerina Grusinskaya was changed into an opera singer, and the role was played by Joan Diener. The work was produced on the West Coast by Edwin Lester at the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, who had enjoyed an earlier success with Wright and Forrest's Song of Norway and Kismet, but the show was not produced on Broadway.
Tommy Tune and Grand Hotel
Before accepting the job as choreographer and director of Grand Hotel, Tune read Davis's script and went with music director Jack Lee to listen to Wright and Forrest's score. He was “deeply moved” by Forrest's playing the piano while Wright sang in his “sturdy, yet tortured” voice. Tune had a weakness for the heart composers had for their own scores, and decided to accept the show. In rehearsals, however, the songs weren’t coming out of the performers as Tune had imagined. “Bluntly stated, the show didn’t work. With the exception of the choreography and the physical trappings, the show was deadly,” as Tune put it in his memoir Footnotes. He brought in Yeston to compose new songs after Wright and Forrest showed recalcitrance at the task of rewriting, and playwright Peter Stone tweaked the book. Despite the animosity of the original authors, Tune continued on the production and found his hope restored. He comments on his experience with Grand Hotel, “I hate it when it gets ugly on a show. It always does though, and you’ve gotta be hearty to survive. If it’s not the writers, then it’s the producers or the cast. There is always turmoil, but if you’re lucky some good can come of it all. I have always tried to be kind to everyone, but please don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. ‘The play’s the thing.’”