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Grand Hotel

Maria Smith | Wednesday, February 9, 2005

The Pasquerilla East Musical Company’s musical is a highlight of the winter months every year. This group of student performers, one of the best known on campus, never fails to put on a sharp and entertaining show.While “Grand Hotel” is no exception to that rule, it is a departure from past performances in other ways. Few of the Company’s musicals feature such a balance between a wide variety of major characters, and the focus on dance in this year’s performance is perhaps a first for the group.Director Devon Candura and choreographer Erin Porvaznik chose the play partly to find a good mix of required talents.”We wanted a play that had challenging dancing and challenging acting,” Candura said. “The plays that fit that were few and far between.”Candura also wanted something a little different and a little more obscure than the average musical.”I was looking for something that didn’t end in a double wedding,” she said. “Being a less well-known show was really attractive to me the year after ‘West Side Story.'””Grand Hotel,” one of the few plays to fit the bill, takes the Company to the most expensive hotel in 1920’s Berlin. The play takes place in the era of the Charleston, the speakeasy and the stock market bubble. Anti-Semitic sentiment is beginning to emerge around Germany, America still represents a dream of opportunity and jazz is beginning to steal the spotlight from ballet as a popular pastime.The audience looks in on the events that change characters’ lives within a single day at the Grand Hotel. Nobility, artists, workers and the seedier members of society all make their way through, provided they have money to pay or a skill to sell. The threads of love, death and money underlie almost every scene. A dissatisfied group of menial laborers mutters Marxist rhetoric around the edges of the action while the elite strive to hang onto the money, and the status, to which they are accustomed. A woman in red, representing love, periodically flirts with death, a man dressed in black. A death bolero between the two marks the climax of the action.Of the six largest roles it would be impossible to pick out a single lead. The action is well divided among a fading ballerina and her devoted assistant, a young typist aspiring to a better future, a young bookkeeper determined to see a little bit of life, a corrupt businessman and a nearly bankrupt baron. An old, cynical doctor watches the action and offers his own observations on life and the people who get caught up in it directly to the audience.It would be equally impossible to pick out a best performer. The cast members all work together well, a key element between such closely interwoven characters. Allison Giovinazzo, a sophomore, who like many of the lead actors played a small part in last year’s production, is endearing as the young and naïve Flaemmchen, dreaming of Hollywood but worried about a pregnancy.Senior Tom Anthony, a long-time campus theater veteran, is thoroughly sleazy as businessman Preysing.”I’m detestable,” Anthony said. “It was a little daunting at first because it’s very gross, but I sort of got into it eventually.”Senior Brian Grundy, one of two electrical engineers in the cast, found his role to be a good break from his normal studies.”It’s a very fun role,” Grundy said. “I basically just wear a tuxedo and hit on women all the time. It couldn’t be better.”Sophomore Brad Lancy, who plays the doctor, found his first role as someone over 50 to be a challenge.”I would say that I am a symbol of the Great Depression to come, and overall depression and sorrow,” Lancy said. “I bring out all the flaws and all the good things and bad things in people’s lives.”The death bolero is a fascinating central point for the play. Juniors Jen Belliveau, who has danced for 17 years but never in a Notre Dame production, and Joe Garlock, who had never danced before joining the Swing Club at Notre Dame, worked together on Sunday nights to learn the complicated dance.Sophomore Tom Mucchetti was responsible for much of the final production in his roles as both musical director and technical director. In addition to working with musicians and conducting the orchestra, Mucchetti supervised set construction.”Musical directing has been a very rewarding experience for me,” Mucchetti said. “In my role as technical director, it’s been an enjoyable process to see the transformation of a conceptual grandness into something tangible.”The Company as a whole both gains and suffers from choosing a relatively obscure musical to work with. Few have heard of “Grand Hotel” even among theater aficionados, and the musical does not contain any of the often performed crowd-pleasing favorites that appeared in last year’s performance of “West Side Story.” However, this keeps the spectators on their toes. The ending is not a foregone conclusion, and the audience does not drift off due to overly familiar scenes. Perhaps not least, performing a little-known work saves the performers from wondering whether they are being compared to actors and singers whom the audience members have previously seen in the roles.As in most years, the tickets for the musical have long since been sold. But if you can get your hands on them, the performance is well worth your time.”Grand Hotel” will be performed tonight through Saturday at Washington Hall.