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Memories of 1989 came flooding back.

Last week, Walter Willison, an original cast member of GRAND HOTEL, edited, produced and directed a marvelous 35th anniversary tribute to the musical. It reiterated what a miraculous entertainment this show was – and is.

It started out as a 1958 musical called AT THE GRAND. Luther Davis, its librettist, told me in a 2001 interview that “I wanted to do a musical that didn’t have its hand out for laughs – which you can even find in ‘Pore Jud Is Daid.’ What had serious characters who could sing?”

He thought of GRAND HOTEL, Vicki Baum’s famous novel that was later made into the 1932 Oscar-winning film. It’s the one in which Greta Garbo, playing a ballerina who’d just endured a disastrous performance, muttered, “I want to be alone.”

AT THE GRAND would reunite Davis with many of his KISMET collaborators. Albert Marre and Joan Diener, the married couple who had respectively directed and starred in the 1953-54 Tony-winning Best Musical, would again do those jobs; Robert Wright and George “Chet” Forrest would return to write the score.

Davis changed the location from Berlin to Rome, for Germany still brought to mind the all-too-recent Nazi regime. “Rome,” he said, “was then a hot spot with sex and beautiful people. And because Joan had this big booming voice, I changed the ballerina into an opera singer.”

Marre wanted Oscar-winner Paul Muni to play Kringelein, the bookkeeper who has little time to live; he plans to spend what money he has living the high life in the grand hotel.

According to Davis, Muni was near-impossible. “He hated Marre and Diener and made demands.” Star trouble was one reason why AT THE GRAND had but a Los Angeles run in July 1958 and a closing in San Francisco on September 13, 1958.

How often does an out-of-town closer get a second chance – and three decades later, to boot? The renaissance started when director-choreographer Tommy Tune was watching TV one night, caught GRAND HOTEL and saw Garbo, who reminded him of Liliane Montevecchi, whom he’d directed to a Tony in NINE.

He mentioned his interest to Jack Lee, the musical director with whom he’d worked on MY ONE AND ONLY. Lee was friendly with Davis and gave AT THE GRAND’s libretto to Tune. Between reading that and hearing the Wright and Forrest score, he wanted to do a workshop.

Said Davis, “All these years later, I felt comfortable returning the setting to Berlin. And because Tommy wanted Liliane, the opera singer became a ballerina again.”

Marty Richards and Mary Lea Johnson (heiress of the Johnson & Johnson fortune) put up $200,000 that allowed Tune to rehearse for an unusually long six weeks at the now-razed Diplomat Hotel on West 43rd near Sixth Avenue. The ballroom had poles that actually inspired Tony Walton’s set.

That was pretty much it for scenery, though, for, as Davis reported, Tune “had recently seen OUR TOWN and its bare stage and was inspired by it.”

So, on September 15, 1989 — 31 years and two days after AT THE GRAND had closed – GRAND HOTEL began previews at the Colonial Theatre in Boston. Wright and Forrest retained five songs from their earlier version and added quite a few.

I attended the second preview and was immediately taken with the characters who came through the hotel’s revolving door. In addition to “Otto Kringelein, a bookkeeper looking for life” and “Elizaveta Grushinskaya, the fabled ballerina making her farewell tour – her eighth,” we had “Raffaela Ottannio, her devoted companion.”

Raffaela has been patiently saving her money for the day when Grushinskaya would need it. That day is here. In addition, Raffaela may want something more from this faded beauty.

Also on hand was “The famous ladies’ man Baron Felix Amadeus Benvenuto von Gaigern, heir to a small title – and large debts.”

So, the Baron breaks into Grushinskaya’s suite to steal her jewelry – just before she unexpectedly enters. He claims that he’s smitten with her, and she’s vulnerable enough after her onstage failure to hope she’s still attractive to someone young and handsome.

Then there’s “Frieda Flamm, a typist.” Although she’s still in her twenties, she’s as desperate as the middle-agers. GRAND HOTEL offered grand dramatic irony after Frieda met the Baron and saw he was smitten with her. She excitedly said, “I’m practically a baroness!” without knowing that he’s not only penniless, but also a thief.

Frieda is hired by “Hermann Preysing, a businessman reporting to his stockholders.” Alas, the reports won’t be good. Preysing’s last-ditch hope doesn’t happen: “The Boston merger is off.”

Actually, GRAND HOTEL found that a very different type of Boston merger was indeed on. For after the local critics wrote lukewarm reviews (which I’ll never understand), Tune asked Wright and Forrest for rewrites. Allegedly they responded with “one couplet a week.”

Tune then made a call to composer-lyricist Maury Yeston, whose NINE had garnered trophies for both of them.

In a mere 21 days, Yeston did exemplary work. He wrote “At the Grand Hotel,” a haunting new opening number; “Everybody’s Doing It” for Preysing’s lawyer; “Love Can’t Happen,” The Baron’s bolt-of-lightning song in which he romanced Grushinskaya; and “Bonjour, Amour,” her happy response.

At that Boston preview, I was taken with Jane Krakowski’s Frieda – or “Flaemmchen” – “The Flame” as she liked to describe herself in a jaunty Wright and Forrest effort. But yes, it was a “mere” song, while Yeston created a genuine musical scene in “I Want to Go to Hollywood.” Frieda has a wonderful line that Krakowski delivered with perfect wistfulness: “I want to wear nice shoes.” But she had bigger problems: “If things get broken, they stay broken,” she rued, as she tried to keep from breaking down.

Yeston’s greatest challenge was writing a final song for the Baron only three days before the show was slated to move to New York.

As Yeston told me in a 2018 interview, “Tune said to me, ‘I know you’re tired, but we do need another number for the Baron after his encounter with Preysing’ – to which I responded, ‘But at that point, he’s dead.’”

Indeed, after the Baron breaks into Preysing’s room to prevent him from raping Frieda, he loses his life in the ensuing scuffle.

Yeston recalled that Tune rebutted him with “They do say that when you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes.”

The result was “Roses at the Station,” a fine song in which the Baron realizes that Grushinskaya will be waiting for him and expecting flowers, but he won’t be able to meet her.

Tune drew the line at dropping Wright and Forrest’s “Who Couldn’t Dance with You,” where Kringelein and Frieda fox-trotted to a delightful melody. He wasn’t merely placating the team either, by keeping their “Maybe My Baby Loves Me,” the scat-sensation done by two bellmen.

Last but hardly least, Tune wouldn’t consider throwing out “We’ll Take a Glass Together.” The Baron and Kringelein, who had come into some stock market money, cavorted it into a production number that I judge second only to “Who’s That Woman?” in FOLLIES. It certainly was a factor in Michael Jeter’s winning the Best Supporting Musical Actor Tony.

Yes, Tune’s magnificent staging was a great part of these songs’ success, but all three are excellent ones that I’d love if I only knew GRAND HOTEL from its stunning cast album.

After opening on November 12, 1989, GRAND HOTEL became the longest-running musical of the 1989-90 season, staying on Broadway for 1,017 performances.

Last week, at 54 Below, Willison, originally a scullery worker, was now Colonel-Doctor. Other original cast members who got promotions were Bob Stillman (the Baron), Ken Jennings (Kringelein), and Keith Crowningshield (Erik, the Front Desk Clerk). All were splendid. Repeating their original roles – and showing they hadn’t lost a step or a note – were Tim Jerome (Preysing), Hal Robinson (Preysing’s lawyer), Karen Akers (Raffaela) and Charles Mandracchia (The Doorman) as well as David Jackson and David White as the two bellmen.

Let’s give a final shout-out to the performer who played Grushinskaya: Emmy-winner Jennifer Bassey of All My Children fame. She was no stranger to the material for she was Luther Davis’ widow.

And by the way, “I want to be alone,” which, despite its lasting fame was never in GRAND HOTEL, wasn’t included here, either.

Chances are with a musical this magnificent, no one has ever missed it.

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.