Friday, May 04, 2018


• Kokandy Productions • Director, John D. Glover • Musical Direction, Aaron Benham • Choreography, Brenda Didier
at Theater Wit through May 27 1229 W Belmont, Chicago 60657 | 773-975-8150

Weimar Berlin, memories of WWI and doing everything to forget it, old money and the rise of capitalism, the “divine decadence" of new sexual possibilities, - this is what "Grand Hotel" at Theater Wit by Kokandy Productions sets out to depict. And are we in for a spectacle! I have never seen so many dancers and singers of such wonderful calibre on the small stage on theater one at Theater Wit. Director John D. Glover with Aaron Benham as Musical Director and Brenda Didier as Choreographer, pulls out all the stops in this incredibly well-staged musical. This is the musical to see before seeing Kander and Ebb’s "Cabaret.” 

(front center) Jonathan Schwart (Otto Kringelein) with the cast of Kokandy Productions' GRAND HOTEL. Photo by Evan Hanover.
All the same characters are here. We have nobility and the artistry of great dancers and wonderful singers. We have romance and sexual dalliances. Even one of the residents of "Grand Hotel” is Otto Kringelein (Jonathan Schwart), a Jewish bookkeeper, who, though strings had to be pulled for him to stay there due to anti-Semitism, winds up living wonderfully - loving life as he has never done before.

And this can be said for so many of the others, even with their pretensions and poshness, their fake love and their social climbing, their loss of money in capitalist deal-making and the ever increasing "dancing and singing” towards the depression that will ruin them all, ushering in the fascistic grand bargain with Hitler. 

We have hints of this inclement fall when the workers of the hotel come marching in and out at different moments, rattling their metal dishes and showing how they are mistreated by the residents and continue to be the low-lifes of society. But mostly the plot makes itself known slowly through the story of a Baron (Erik Dohner) who has lost all his money, yet lives the good life by sponging off rich women. But his humanity comes through and he must deal with the love he has for one woman and the anti-Semitism that is leveled against Otto Kringelein. 

(left to right) Travis Austin WrightLeryn Turlington (Flaemmchen) and Darren Patin in Kokandy Productions' GRAND HOTEL. Photo by Evan Hanover.
Flaemmchen (Leyren Turlignton) a typist, who works to make her way up the social and economic ladder, is then sexually harassed where male power can also be seen foreshadowing the authoritarianism that is coming to Germany. Certainly sexual harassment today by those in power -- on up to those at the top of the U.S. government -- can be seen through this lens on history.

My one criticism, still leaving the show eminently to be seen — is that the arc of the production should have led us more clearly to what Germany was to become, more like the tawdry and decadent world of "Cabaret.” There is a reason Vicki Baum, the original author of the novel "Menschen im Hotel” upon which the play and musical was based, had Otto Kringelein the Jew, in the show. Baum, a Viennese Jew was writing about the great economic depression that was about to come in 1929 (the play takes place in 1928) and it was blamed on the Jews. Jews were also blamed for why Germany lost WWI, as the capitalists of the world, and as the communists who supported mistreated workers. 

(front, l to r) Nick ArceoJeff Pierpoint and Maurice Randle (second row, l to r) Jenny McPhersonHanah Rose NardoneDaniel HurstJennifer Ledesma and Darren Patin (back, l to r) Aaron BenhamElena Spiegel and Parker Guidry in Kokandy Productions' GRAND HOTEL. Photo by Evan Hanover.
Jews were seen as vermin, eating away at German society, creating secret cabals, and infiltrating the "grand hotel” of Germany - a world about to explode into racial hatred. More of this should have been at the edges of what, in so many other ways, was a wonderful show.