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AUBURN — Brett Smock sees "Grand Hotel" as a prequel of sorts.

The producing artistic director of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival is also directing the festival's second show of the season, which opens July 10. And for Smock, "Grand Hotel" is just a few chronological doors down from another show he directed on the stage of the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse: "Cabaret," in 2012. While that show depicted Germany on the brink of Nazism in 1931, Smock said, "Grand Hotel" depicts the free-spirited '20s that came before. At its titular setting, the stories of its many colorful guests intersect in sudden, seamless fashion: the fading ballerina Grushinskaya (Michele Ragusa), terminally ill Jewish bookkeeper Otto (Dino Nicandros) and charming but broke Baron Felix Von Gaigern (Patrick Cummings), among others.

"Berlin is big, alive and successful. It's a party," Smock said. "We capture the city, the hotel and these characters attending that party, and they have the time of their lives before the world changes."

"Grand Hotel" dates back to Vicki Baum's 1929 novel "Menschen im Hotel," which inspired the 1932 movie "Grand Hotel" with Greta Garbo. In 1958, Luther Davis, Robert Wright and George Forrest turned the novel into a modestly successful musical titled "At the Grand." But it wasn't until the late '80s, when the three asked director Tommy Tune to revive their show, that "Grand Hotel" became what it is today, Smock said. Tune's fast, "conveyor belt" concept of the show, which included a number choreographed by friend and Auburn native Thommie Walsh, would win five Tony Awards.

The show has never been performed at Merry-Go-Round, but it's been a finalist for the theater festival's last few seasons, Smock said. This year, it fit perfectly between "Grease" and "South Pacific," he continued, neither a classic nor completely modern. And like "Cabaret," "Grand Hotel" gives Smock the opportunity to absorb his audiences in another time and place.

"A lot of times, shows can feel like watching a movie," he said. "My goal was to bring in a show that's big in scope and find a way for it to speak to people in a 500-seat house on an intimate, personal level that is gripping, compelling and captivating. I want people to sit down and watch these characters and their stakes, which I think are fascinating, and relate to them in some way."

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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Features editor for The Citizen and auburnpub.com. I also cover local arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.