The setting is a lavish, overpriced hotel whose vain, greedy, and gullible clientele and staff symbolize a great nation critically wounded in the pride and pocketbook by a failed war a decade earlier. Germany in the 1920s, or America in the 1980s? Director-choreographer Tommy Tune’s visually and kinetically gripping production constantly coaxes parallels between the doomed Europe depicted in Vicki Baum’s 1929 novel and the financial and moral corruption of our own nation throughout the last decade. The Grand Hotel summoned up in Tony Walton’s set and Jules Fisher’s lighting is a world of illusion, where the shift of a shadow can suggest a limitless expanse of luxury or expose a crumbling facade and a crippled existence. Tune and musical supervisor Wally Harper have taken workmanlike, merely serviceable material (script by Luther Davis, score by Robert Wright, George Forrest, and Maury Yeston) and edited it into a haunting, constantly shifting collage of light and dark, life and death. Tune’s choreography (including stylized fox-trots, Charlestons, tangos, and Apache dancing) never succumbs to the temptations of Broadway-style glitz and gaudiness; every image, angle, and gesture–every stream of light and ribbon of cigarette smoke–is pared to perfection and packed with meaning. Heading a mostly stalwart ensemble, Brent Barrett is marvelous as the Baron, the penniless, crooked, but genuinely romantic aristocrat whose flirtations and friendships link the shows story lines; he sings with virile authority, moves with a cat burglar’s acrobatic grace, and always makes the audience sense the character as both frail human being and potent symbol of the corrupted innocence and doomed beauty that Grand Hotel celebrates and laments. At the Chicago Theatre, through April 28 (175 N. State, 902-1500). Thursday and Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 2 and 7 PM. $16-$46.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Martha Swope.