(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/6)
This musical, based on Vicki Baum’s portmanteau novel, has had a chequered history. It folded on the road in the 1950s, had a successful Broadway debut in 1989, flopped in the West End in 1992 and was sharply revived by the Donmar in 2004. Even if it remains a minor musical, it is now directed with style and speed by Thom Southerland, and wittily choreographed by Lee Proud.
The book is by Luther Davis, the music and lyrics by George Forrest and Robert Wright – who gave us, not that we really needed it, Kismet – and Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic) is responsible for additional songs. Collectively, what they provide is a cross-section of life in a deluxe Berlin hotel in 1928 where everyone, including the choric figure of a cynical, mainlining doctor, exists in a state of desperation. Too many stories are told to leave us deeply engaged, but the show flares into life during its big numbers. The opening offers a stunning, perfectly drilled introduction to the sleekly clad guests and staff, and a subsequent foxtrot and charleston evoke the hectic exuberance of the 20s. As in so many recent musicals (Mack and Mabel, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) dance dominates the show.
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