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April 19, 1996 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1996-04-19

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National Poetry Month continues...
The muses keep on flowing at Shaman Drum Bookshop tonight as poet
Gerry La Femina reads from his work, including "The City of Jazz and
Punk" and "Rest Stops". It starts at 8 o'clock and it's free.



4No vacancies in tis Grand Hotel'
Musical theater program gives the Broadway musical a four-star treatment

By Melissa Rose Bernardo
Daily Theater Editor
"Grand Hotel" is not a musical one
can really love. One can praise it, as
many New York critics did the morn
afterits November 12,1989, Broadway
Ipening. One can admire it, as many
ficionados, professors of musical the-
ater, and pupils of director/choreogra-
pher Tommy Tune do. One can cer-
tainly dislike it, as a majority of the
Grand Hotel
Power Center
When: Tonight and Saturday at.8
p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.-
Tickets: $12-$16 ($6 students).
Call 764-0450.
Note: "Grand Hotel" is performed
without an intermission.
Tony voting committee did ("Grand
Hotel" received 12 nominations, the
most possible for any musical, and won
just five - losing the Musical, Book
and Score categories to "City of An-
els"). One can even claim to have
experienced it, as only a concept musi-
cal can be experienced.
All the more reason to applaud the
Musical Theater Program's production
oftheenigtnatic Tommy Tune musical;
director Gary Bird and his cast have
given us reason to actually like "Grand
Hotel, the Musical" - if not at times
even love it.
In a previous interview with The
ichigan Daily, Bird admitted to his
"if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it" ap-
proach to staging the show; much of
his direction was lifted from or in-

spired by Tune's, the only tangible
asset of "Grand Hotel" on Broadway.
The score is a mishmash of good old
fashioned Broadway melodies and
characterless filler. (Of course, when
a score is penned by four different
people, one might expect a little in-
consistency.) Luther Davis's book,
though based on Vicki Baum's solid
1928 novel, often serves as more of a
transition than actual character de-
velopment. What made "Grand Ho-
tel" work at all was Tommy Tune, the
only man who could have gotten
Liliane Montevecchi back en pointe
for the first time in 25 years to dance
Grushinskaya (her own words).
Tune's trademark, as a disciple of
Michael Bennett, was his vision of the
movement of a hotel lobby as a two-
hour dance - uninterrupted, strictly
choreographed (though by no means
military) movement. And that move-
ment, along with the dialogue and mu-
sic, advances the plot. Bennett did that
with "A Chorus Line"; Stephen
Sondheim did the same with music in
"Company." Thus the concept musical
was born - an inseparable integration
of story, song and movement - and
thus Tune put his stamp on an up-and-
coming musical theater genre.
Consider the University's produc-
tion an advancement of that genre. And
it couldn't come at a better time -
when musicals are moving farther and
farther away from the Rodgers-and-
Hammerstein/Lerner-and-Loewe book
show, and closer to the concept like
"Grand Hotel." What's getting the at-
tention in New York are Jonathan
Larson's "Rent," a contemporary ren-
dering of life in the East Village using
"La Boheme" as a frame, and "Bring in

'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk," a dis-
sertation on tap, rap and blues. The
opening of the stage versions of "Big"
and "State Fair" have hardly garnered a
scrap of attention compared to "Rent"
and "Noise." The reason is simple:
Contemporary audiences are more ex-
cited by shows that break with tradi-
Not that "Grand Hotel" is such an
unrecognizable conjugation of the
American musical. It's got all the ele-
ments - they're just rearranged.
We are, in fact, introduced to the
entire company and the relevant char-
acters within the first 15 minutes. In the
lobby ofthe lavish Grand Hotel Berlin,
the Mephistophelean Doctor(a delight-
fully acidic Matt Schicker), after inject-
ing a healthy dose of morphine into his
arm, sets up the scenario: The Baron
Felix Amadeus Benvenuto von Gaigern
(Glenn Allen), a nobleman and thief
attempting to outrun his creditors; the
terminally ill Otto Kringelein (Adam
Hunter) who has conic to the Grand
Hotel in search of life; the prima balle-
rina Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Allison
Buckhammer), embarkingon hereighth
farewell tour; her "devoted" confidante
Rafaella (Leigh Jonaitis); Frida
Flaemmchen, a typist with dreams of
being in pictures.
The company - an assortment of
bellhops, telephone operators, maids,
scullery workers-mill about the stage
with precision, complementing the pri-
mary action or ensuring quick motion
from scene to scene. (As in the Broad-
way production,despite individual iden-
tities, the ensemble often comes off
more like human scenery than actual
characters. Nevertheless, they are an
indispensable asset to any production,

especially this one.)
Bird's seamless staging owes much
to Gary Decker's set, a larger and more
mobile version of Tony Walton's origi-
nal Broadway design. Fourceiling-high
pillars advance and retreat, enabling
swift and smooth scene shifts; the height
and prominence of the back wall allows
the ensemble to easily blend into the
woodwork when necessary.
Everything about Decker's set says
opulence. From the three beaded chan-
deliers topping the stage to the gleam-
ing marble stage floor, the decor is
positively eye-popping. Jessica
Hahn's costumes are similarly deca-
dent; Grushinskaya's hats and capes
are just gorgeous. Every "i" is dotted
and every "t" crossed here: They even
have monogrammed towels and dust-
And though it is a very great asset,
Bird's direction is not solely respon-
sible for the success of this production.
He has assembled a strong leading cast,
and an even stronger supporting cast.
Glenn Allen looks and sings every
inch the Baron; though he missed a few
dramatic moments, he compensated
with a seemingly effortless rendition of
"Love Can't Happen," the only true
show-stopper written in the score. As
his object of admiration and eventually
his love, Allison Buckhammer turns in
a mature and informed portrayal of
Elizaveta. Leigh Jonaitis makes a sig-
nificant impression as the ballerina's
secret admirer.
But as expected, the show-stealer is
Adam Hunter as Kringelein. His char-
acter does aim for the sympathy points,
and - as was validated by the Tony
voters - can run off with a sizable
portion of the show. Hunter proves that

Gavin J. Creel, Jessica Caufiel and Brian Mulay kick up their heels in "Grand
Hotel," playing at the Power Center this weekend.

point, and then some. He's all at once
miserable, vivacious, kooky, pitiable
and lovable. (He also sings likeadream,
but that's incidental for the character.)
Watch for his drunken antics in "Who
Couldn't Dance With You?" and a
brilliantly spontaneous display ofchar-
acter dancing in "We'll Take A Glass
Hunter and the rest of the cast -
including Jessica Cauffiel's fiery
Flaemmcheni - are aided by Mary
Rotella's wonderfully authentic cho-
reography, "H-A-P-P-Y" (led by the
charismatic Gavin J. Creel and Brian
Mulay) and "We'll Take A Glass To-
gether" should raise the roof. And
speaking of dancing, keep an eye out
for Job Christenson and Susan Grady
as the Bolero Dancers, who sweep
across the stage every few scenes add-

ing an indescribably aesthetic layer to
the constant stream of movement in the
hotel; their final big dance, after the
Baron's death, is nothing short of breath-
Bird has also made a few judicious
cuts, shortening the unbearable
"Everybody's Doing It" and turning
"The Grand Waltz," an insipid utter
of a song reminiscent of an aniuse-
ment park ride, into an instrumental
exit melody. (The orchestra, inciden-
tally, is first-rate under the direction
of Broadway and "Grand Hotel'" vet-
eran Ben Whiteley.)
Though many were initially skeptical
of Bird's choice for the spring musical,
the selection proved quite shrewd. Nearly
six years after its premiere, I've finally
warmed up to "Grand Hotel," and I
suspect I'm not alone.

Pornographer' bares all his artistic turmoil

1" 4

By Prashant Tamaskar
daily Arts Writer
In the openi ng scene of "The Pornog-
rapher," an elderly man tells a story
about how his father was gruesomely
tortured,just for protecting him against
a few rowdy soldiers who were trying
to steal his bike. The young man who is
listening to the anecdote seems to be
getting a real kick out of it. From this
beginning, it is obvious that this film,
which first premiered at the 1994
Oundance Film Festival, is not going to
be a typical movie experience.
The aforementioned young man who
enjoys the story of suffering is Greyson
Robey (Jason Tomlins), a rich and fa-
mous modern artist. Despite his suc-
cess, Robey is a tormented soul who
gets off on tales of anguish and misery.
Happiness appears to be an emotion
that he is incapable of feeling.
One morning Robey is paid a visit by
is agent and Sasha Hoffner (Melora
ardin), an art critic whose father just
happens to own an influential maga-
zine. Sasha plans on doing a feature on
Robey that will land the artist on the
cover of the periodical. However, the
brooding creator is reluctant to give her
anything to work with.
Sasha eventually discovers that
Robey is truly an artist - a con artist,
that is. He doesn't actually make any of
Ohe art that he sells for hundreds of
thousands of dollars.
For example, Robey hired the old


Directed by Patrick Duncan
with Jason Tomlins and
Nicholas Cascone
At Ann Arbor 1&2
man from the beginning at minimum
wage to make pieces to sell to the pub-
lic. The only art form in Robey's work
is the ability to gain fame and power
without really doing anything; Robey
seems to be very proud of this achieve-
ment. Yet Sasha does not give up on the
article; she and Robey's agent have
devised an intricate plan that will allow
Sasha to run the magazine, as long as
the artist is still successful.
Unfortunately, the entire first half
of the film is devoted, ad nauseam, to
the development of Robey's charac-
ter and the grand scheme that will
bring him even more fame. There are
countless scenes of Robey dreaming
of pain and suffering. Moreover, he
has a giant sculpture of Jesus Christ
on a crucifix, hanging over his bed,
unnecessarily symbolizing his own
Early in the film, the only thing that

provides us with an idea of what is to
come is the introduction of Connie
(Nicholas Cascone).,alongtime friend
of Robey's. He uses Robey's studio
for his own work as an adult film
director. Robey obviously loathes
Connie, but allows him to use the
studio because Connie financially
supported him when he was begin-
ning as an artist.
To display his "artistic abilities,"
Robey decides to destroy his buddy.
He is certain that Sasha will do noth-
ing to stop him, because in many ways,
she is just as manipulative as he is.
The morose, somber tone of the sec-
ond half of the film, which master-
fully unravels before our eyes, serves
as the perfect parallel to the nature of
Greyson Robey.
The underlying irony of "The Por-
nographer" is that the title character is
clearly the most virtuous of the three
central figures. Connie was once a tal-
ented film student, but circumstances
led him astray. He directs adult movies
in order to pay the bills. Obviously, he
would prefer to be doing other things,
but he has managed to find peace and
happiness in his life.
His content nature is augmented by

his attitude toward people. The sincere
Connie is truly a kind man and is not
judgmental like his friend Robey. His
ability to realize that not everyone is
perfect allows him to love and be loved
by others, which is the root of Robey's
malice toward him.
The source of Robey's torment is his
inability to be happy, which is a direct
result ofthe lack oflove in his life. Deep
down, he envies Connie's beautiful re-
lationship with an ex-prostitute and the
concern that the film director has for a
former actress who is stricken with the
AIDS virus. It is this jealousy and re-
sentment that causes the petty artist to
try to ruin the life of the only person
who cares for him.
It is hard to believe that director
Patrick Duncan is the same man who
wrote "Mr. Holland's Opus." After all,
this cynical tale of the agony of an artist
has an entirely opposite tone to the
recent blockbuster smash. However, the
direction in "The Pornographer" is ex-
cellent, creating genuine emotions and
coaxing earnest performances out of
the lead actors. Based on this work,
Duncan's future may be in leading in-
ventive productions, and not in com-
posing feel-good hits.

They've got the punk: The D Generation might
just be the next big thing
Joey Ramone's favorite band, the wild and reckless D Generation, will be warming
up for the Ramones at the State Theatre in Detroit on Sunday, April 21. The New
York punk-revivalists are gearing up for the July release of their Columbia Records
debut, "No Lunch." Produced by the Cars' Ric Ocasek, "No Lunch" is rumored: to
be a great mix of the band's raw power and awesome songwriting and will
hopefully be the boost they need to break big time. Check 'em out before they're
huge! Tickets are only $20 in advance, so don't miss this opportunity to hearithe
true punk sounds of D Generation and the Ramones together. Showtime at the
State Theatre is 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at (810) 645-6666.

Summer Arts ---31

A sulmner
of lofty,

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