The Grand Tour
The Colony Theatre's "World Premiere Revision" of this Jerry Herman (music and lyrics), Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble (book) musical follows Jacobowsky as he flees Paris. He ends up travelling with Tadeusz Stjerbinsky, a colonel in the Polish army who must attend a secret meeting some distance away, in order to bring a critical message to the Polish Resistance. The Colonel is a pompous, anti-Semitic aristocrat, who shows his disdain for Jacobowsky by not even bothering to learn the man's name - preferring to call him "Levine" or whatever other Jewish surname leaps to mind. John Ganun plays the stuffy Colonel with an overemphasized accent (which sometimes makes his lyrics incomprehensible) and an implacable manner. Ganun's Colonel frequently seems like an immovable object, with Graae's Jacobowsky darting around him, trying to find the right lever to get the necessary response.
The pair is soon joined by the Colonel's girlfriend Marianne, a sweet French woman who is more open and kind than the Colonel. She not only gets Jacobowsky's name right on the first try, she calls him Mr. Jacobowsky, showing her immediately to be a person of rather better character than the Colonel (despite his beliefs in his own impeccable honorableness). Tami Tappan Damiano brings her lovely voice to Marianne, and gives a particularly strong rendition of "I Want to Live Each Night," a song restored to this production, in which a music hall number's lyrics have added meaning.
Thus complete, our trio travels all over France - by car, train, wagon and several other means of transport. In order to evade the Nazis, they find themselves in all manner of scrapes, including a stint with a travelling carnival and an evening at a house of ill repute ... It reads rather like Planes, Trains & Automobiles with singing. And Nazis. It sounds absolutely awful - not to mention distasteful - but the great bulk of it works. It starts off unsteadily; when the Colonel refuses to board a train that is their only hope because the cabin is not First Class, you may wonder if anyone could be that stupid and still be able to dress himself in the morning. But after that awkward moment, it becomes pretty easy to just get swept up in the show. Thanks to the zippy direction of Evan Weinstein, the quick pacing of Stewart and Bramble's book (which could still use a bit of tinkering), and the joyous Jerry Herman melodies, you don't really have time to over think things.
And it probably still wouldn't work without the completely committed performance of Graae, who gives Jacobowsky an emotional honesty and fundamental dignity that center the show. At one point, Jacobowsky finds himself at a Jewish wedding. As the participants celebrate in song, Jacobowsky is off to the side, alone. Eventually, your eye will go to Graae, as he allows all of Jacobowsky's emotions to run across his face. It is a beautiful theatrical moment, which gives a plot-driven purpose to what is otherwise a meaningless scene of entertaining fluff.
The Colony's production is a bit thin, with a cast of ten playing twenty-three speaking roles and countless non-speaking ones. The band has four pieces and the action takes place on a single set. The production does a lot with a little, such as when a car is created by the proper piling of various pieces of luggage. At times, this becomes too self-consciously clever for the production's own good. When you take the time to notice how a carnival tent is created with only four ropes and a string of Christmas lights, the production is calling attention to how cheap it actually is.
It makes you wonder how this revision would play with a larger cast and bigger budget. The Grand Tour certainly has a wonderful score that deserves to be heard. (In particular, "You I Like" should take its place among musical theatre's most entertaining male duets.) As long as the show keeps its heart in the right place, it just might go places.
The Colony Theatre Company - Barbara Beckley, Artistic Director - presents The Grand Tour. Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman; Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Scenic Design by Bradley Kaye; Costume Design by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg; Lighting Design by Don Guy; Sound Design by Drew Dalzell; Properties Design by MacAndME; Hair and Wig Design by Joni Rudesill; Production Stage Manager Leesa Freed; Assistant Stage Manager Alisha Heistad; Marketing/Public Relations David Elzer/DEMAND PR; Musical Director Jeff Rizzo; Choreographer Peggy Hickey; Directed by Evan Weinstein.
The Grand Tour runs at the Colony Theatre in Burbank through December 4, 2005. For tickets and information, see www.colonytheatre.org.
Photo by Michael Lamont