Book: Thomas Meehan and Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics: Maury Yeston
Director: Thom Sutherland
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Death was exceptionally busy in 2016 and aside from the ongoing wars and natural disasters he also claimed an exceptionally high number of actors, musicians and celebrities. Understandably then, he’s in need of a bit of a rest and fortunately Maury Yeston, Thomas Meehan and Peter Stone have planned a much-needed vacation for him. Their new musical, Death Takes a Holiday opening at the Charing Cross Theatre is based on an original Italian play by Alberto Casella, which gives the world two days in which everyone “stopped dying for a time.”
Exhausted by his work in the First World War, Death is due to claim his latest victim a beautiful young girl named Grazia Lamberti on her way home in 1922 but, instead, he becomes enchanted with her. Desperate to understand more about living and feel real emotions, Death colludes with Grazia’s father, the Duke, to pose as a Russian Prince for two days but his true identity must remain a secret from the other inhabitants of the house or Death will claim them all. But as the Prince and Grazia grow closer will the Duke keep his promise and risk losing his daughter?
Death Takes a Holiday is an unashamedly Gothic romance that revels in its fairy-tale story. At times the sweeping melancholy of Yeston’s music combined with Morgan Large’s movable villa recall elements of Beauty and the Beast as its version of a Disney princess – Grazia – woos her Prince and refuses to be swayed from the course of true love at any cost. While there are touches of humour, and not nearly enough of them, the show becomes an earnest evocation of love conquering all… even when the object of your affection just happens to be the Grim Reaper.
Much of its success lays in the central performances, particularly of Chris Peluso as a rather luminous Death / Prince Sirki who learns to be less matter-of-fact about life and for the first time understands what he takes from those left behind. As he delivers rousing ballad after rousing ballad including the charming I Thought That I Could Live and Alive! as well as romantic duets such as Alone Here With You and More and More, it is clear from the bursts of applause that the audience would choose Death without question.
Zoe Doano’s Grazia is a determined and feisty character who refuses to accept anything less than the man she really loves. Her operatic voice works beautifully on the duets with Peluso while her own solos are charming. Her delivery of Meehan and Stone’s book is a little stilted, however, not quite matching up to the power of her vocal delivery.
While there is a very large surrounding cast and the various subplots are well seeded in Act One, not enough time is given to their exploration and conclusion in the rest of the production. Grazia’s ex-fiance Corrado (Ashley Stillburn) manages to be little more than a third-rate villain who rarely goes beyond huffing and puffing about losing his girl, while Grazia’s friends, Daisy (Scarlett Courtney) and Alice (Helen Turner), get the beginnings of stories about unrequited or lost love but not much more.
Most wasted is the character of Eric (Samuel Thomas) a former Great War pilot who has a stunning solo about the death of Grazia’s brother Roberto whom he saw shot from the sky making him the one character who understands more about death than anyone else, yet in Act Two all he does is try to prove the Prince is a fake. Eric could be better utilised not only as an insight into the post-war context but also as a challenge to Grazia’s over-romanticisation of life, which would create more insight in the second half.
Director Thom Sutherland keeps things moving smoothly with new scenes being set as old ones fade out but there could be a touch more of the darkness and danger of having Death as a guest. Death Takes a Holiday is an overtly romantic musical that will largely sweep you along to its rousing finale. After all, if Death is busy falling in love, then maybe celebrities will be a bit safer in 2017.
Runs until 4 March 2017 | Image: Scott Rylander