According to Earthwatch website ecologogy.com, 151,600 people die each day. Now, that’s quite a statistic and only goes to emphasise the fact that on the day you are born you start to die. Okay, not the most cheery way to start a review but just imagine if it was your job to go and collect more than 151,000 people every day and take them to the next stage, whatever that may be. Now, it’s 1922 and you have collected all those that died during The Great War and the Spanish flu epidemic that followed. Wouldn’t you be wanting a bit of downtime at some point? To see how that turns out, you need to pop along to the Charing Cross Theatre where they are presenting the European premiere of Death Takes a Holiday (Thom Southerland directs, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan).
Duke Vittorio Lamberti (Mark Inscoe) and his family are driving home to their hilltop villa outside of Venice after the engagement party of their daughter, Grazia (Zoë Doano), to Corrado (Ashley Stillburn). They are driving way too fast for the time of night and quality of the road and Grazia isn’t helping matters by standing up in the car loving the feel of the wind as it rushes towards her. Suddenly, a sharp bend appears and the car goes one way while Grazia goes flying the other. Straight towards Death (Chris Peluso) who is waiting to welcome her with open arms. However, when Death sees Grazia, he hesitates and does not enfold her into his world but lets her live on.
Later that evening, at the Duke’s villa, Death arrives and informs the Duke that he intends to learn more about mankind and their fear of him. To do this, Death adopts the disguise of Russian nobleman Prince Nikolai Sirki and announces he will be spending the weekend as a guest of the Duke and his wife (Kathryn Akin). He also tells the Duke than nobody must know who he is whilst he is in the house and that he will leave on Sunday evening on the stroke of midnight. Are Death/Sirki’s motives just about seeing the reality of human emotion or has he got a more sinister plan in mind? Maybe the Duchess’s elderly and mentally befuddled mother, the Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli (Gay Soper) and her old flame, Dr. Dario Albione (Anthony Cable) will figure out the truth, especially when unexpected houseguest Major Eric Fenton (Samuel Thomas) joins the party.
As always, when reviewing, I will be perfectly honest. It took me a long time to warm to Death Takes a Holiday. I’m not really sure why, but there was something a bit too melodramatic and rather old-fashioned about the story which didn’t really sit well with me. There were a couple of other issues with the sheer number of songs. To my mind, you add a song to a story either to explore a character in more detail or to move the plot along and some just didn’t seem to do that. Having said that, however, ‘Alone Here With You’ which finished the first act was tremendous and only eclipsed by the absolutely stunning duet between Gay Soper and Anthony Cable ‘December Time’ which pretty much stole the show.
Thom Southerland directs and makes really good use of the stage, moving the actors around Morgan Large’s deceptively simple looking set. Zoë Doano and Chris Peluso are excellent as Grazia and Death. Both have amazing voices and, especially on some of their duets, really seemed to have a connection between them that worked on many levels. In fact, I was chatting during the interval with a chap who said the strength of the singing made the show feel more like an operetta than a run of the mill musical. Chris, in particular was amazing. He had a real stage presence so that even when stood, not moving, in half-light – very good design by Matt Daw – every eye was drawn to him. He managed to be everything that Death can be – proud, egotistical and totally in control, while embracing the human frailties of emotion, wonderment and indeed love at the same time. Full credit to the rest of the cast, who all played their parts extremely well. I would have liked to see some of the minor characters expanded slightly, for example, Alice (Helen Turner) and Daisy (Scarlett Courtney) didn’t really get a chance to do much more than join in a few songs and show off Johnathan Lipman’s lovely costumes.
All told, Death Takes a Holiday is an interesting and entertaining musical. Whilst there are no big surprises to the story – even the ending is pretty obvious within the first few minutes of Act I – it is a pleasant enough romp that will not tax your mind too much but will definitely keep you entertained.
Review by Terry Eastham
Thom Sutherland directs the UK premiere of Death Takes a Holiday, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan, the European premiere of the follow-up to Titanic by its Tony Award-winning composers.
In Northern Italy, shortly after World War One, Death disguises himself as a handsome young prince to try to understand why life is so precious and death so feared. But when he unexpectedly falls in love with a newly engaged young woman, this mysterious stranger discovers that love may in fact, be stronger than death.
With a book by multi Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan and Peter Stone, based on the 1928 Italian play of the same name which went on to inspire the movie, Meet Joe Black, and a romantic score by multi Tony Award winner Maury Yeston (Titanic, Nine), this is a soaring story of the preciousness of life and the overwhelming power of love.
Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NL
Booking Until: 4th Mar 2017
Death Takes a Holiday Tickets