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Musical Grandeur

As you wander with parents in tow through the Bryan Center this weekend, expect to be surrounded by sound--the chatter of coffee breaks at Alpine Atrium, the buzz of buying sweatshirts at the Duke University Store, the din of old Berlin.

Pardonne-moi?

Yes, the musical, Grand Hotel, based in 1930s Germany, runs this weekend in the Bryan Center's Shaefer Theater.

The musical is presented by Hoof On' Horn, one of Duke's completely student-run theatre companies. Every part of the show, both onstage and behind the scenes, is the creation of Duke students.

"This is a great way for parents to see the many creative opportunities for the Duke student body," said cast member Helena Clauss. "Plus, [the show] has something for everyone. There's definitely a balance between singing, dancing and the storylines." Indeed, from Clauss's compelling voice to the cheery dancing of "the Jimmys" (Jeanne Rittschof & Margaret Mash) to the poignant charm of Bret Jasper's Otto Kringelein, the cast's many talents appear within all areas of the performance.

Grand Hotel's provocative plot features characters struggling with their own declines: a past-her-prime ballerina, a dying man, a baron desperate for cash, a secretary desperate for fame. These declines contrast the laissez-faire luxuries of their surroundings--the Grand Hotel of Berlin, 1928. These emotional extremes create a dynamic tension within the score, as melancholy melodies are cut with sharp-cheddar-cheesy dance numbers.

The ensemble cast successfully intertwines the campy superficiality of the late 1920s with a sense of dark foreboding. Unfortunately, they are not as successful at conveying the story, as critical lines, both sung and spoken, are lost to a lack of projection, enunciation or thickened European accents. (However, it should be noted that most of the accents performed are quite decent).

Despite these shortcomings, Grand Hotel is a shining example of Hoof On' Horn's long-standing tradition of student-based musicals. The production serves as a testament to the participants' dedication, ingenuity and passion for theater. And with Grand Hotel, their efforts and talent are truly apparent.

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