The Colony Theater’s revival of the 1979 musical “The Grand Tour” represents one of the great, recurring theatrical pipe dreams: Take a forgotten flop by one of the most famous of American composers (Jerry Herman), tweak it to shed the errors of the Broadway original (Mark Bramble has adjusted his and Michael Stewart’s original book), sing its melodic score to the hilt, and — miracle of miracles — it will be re-discovered as a neglected masterpiece. Instead, of course, the result is nearly as inevitable as the noble effort: The flaws prove recalcitrant, and the show that didn’t work a quarter century ago still doesn’t.
It’s not really a mystery why this show doesn’t work, although it’s a bit baffling that anyone thought a minor adjustment would fix it. Herman, composer of such hits as “Hello Dolly!” and “Mame,” is known for the happy hummability of his songs, and he delivers a number of tunes here that linger pleasurably in the ear. But the tone of his work does battle with the story itself, in which clever Jewish refugee S.L. Jacobowsky (Jason Graae), bombastic Polish Colonel Stjerbinsky (John Ganun) and his French girlfriend Marianne (Tami Tappan Damiano), try to stay one step ahead of the Nazis in occupied France.
Yes, this is a comedy, based on a play by Czech writer Franz Werfel and its American adaptation by S.N. Behrman. It’s a tribute to the improvisational survival instincts of Jacobowsky, who teaches the arrogant Colonel the necessary humility to succeed on the run. But there are many different types of comedy, and this picaresque, political and highly ironic fare simply isn’t up Herman’s alley. His songs, while toe-tapping, simply don’t have the needed nuance or edge.
Bramble has tried to bring a greater sense of threat into the book, to make the danger of the Nazis more real and less comic, but that only serves to distance even further the tone of the music from the goings-on of the plot. A convent in the original becomes a brothel in the revision, which allows a newly included song-and-dance number featuring some scantily clad courtesans. It has Herman written all over it, but, like many other numbers, it succeeds only in flattening the efforts of its central trio — to advance the cause of resistance and stay alive — into a series of musical comedy cliches.
This production boasts terrific leads, and their singing abilities alone bring real class to this show. Jason Graae has the required charm for Jacobowsky, and the triple-threat talent to go with it. His extremely relaxed performance finds a counterpart in Ganun’s Colonel, a rod of military uprightness who, both figuratively and literally, ends up playing the clown.
Director Evan Weinstein perhaps could have found a way to meld these styles together a bit more effectively, but he’d be battling the book. As is, the complex relationship between the two, which is really the core of the story, lurches from necessary collaborators to rivals to buddies, and yet never becomes genuinely involving. Tami Tappan Damiano has the least interesting role — the perfect woman, instantly beloved by all — but pulls it off with straightforward grace.
The story takes place in various locations in France, and involves a Rolls-Royce, a train and a carnival. It’s the kind of show that could be quite the visual spectacle if the economics allowed it. In this case, they don’t. And while Weinstein and his design team try to compensate with some creative use of suitcases and a carefully staged extravaganza for the Act I closing number, “One Extraordinary Thing,” the effects lack enough variety and an imaginative pop.
Like the show as a whole, the modestly scaled staging almost works, but it doesn’t.