After Grand Hotel and Titanic, Thom Southerland has scored another winner with a Maury Yeston musical. Death Takes a Holiday, book by Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan, was nominated for 11 Drama Desk Awards after its Off-Broadway premiere in 2011. Based on the 1928 play by Alberto Casella, the musical takes place in the home of an aristocratic family near Lake Garda in Northern Italy, shortly after World War I. The young and beautiful Grazia Lamberti (Zoë Doano) has just got engaged and goes on a reckless ride with her fiancé Corrado Danielli (Ashley Stillburn). When Corrado crashes the car, causing Grazia to be flung to the ground at high speed, Grazia miraculously survives unharmed: Death (Chris Peluso) has fallen in love and refuses to take her life.
Instead Death persuades Grazia’s father Duke Vittorio Lamberti (Mark Inscoe) to receive him as a guest over the weekend, posing as the lately deceased Prince Nikolai Sirki, a young Russian aristocrat. Lamberti reluctantly agrees – who can refuse Death? – and Prince Sirki goes on his quest to find out what it is like to be human whilst being in the presence of his beloved. Grazia is intrigued by the mysterious stranger and soon calls off her engagement with Corrado.
During Death’s holiday nobody dies and all characters experience a rejuvenating change. Baron Dario Albione (Anthony Cable), in love with Countess Evangelina di Danielli (Gay Soper) for many years, is finally appreciated as himself instead of being confused with her late husband and they celebrate with the touching “December Time”. Almost every character is showcased in a song in this delightful musical.
The Duke is not pleased about the romance between Death and his daughter Grazia, especially after losing his son Roberto in the war. When Major Eric Fenton (Samuel Thomas), who knew Roberto well, questions Prince Sirki about their alleged friendship, the situation becomes somewhat prickly for Death who has never experienced loss when Eric recognises the same expression in his eyes that he saw in Roberto’s when he died. Apart from those dark moments, there is also plenty of humour in the show because the audience knows the true identity of the Prince whereas the characters do not, except for the Duke and his butler Fidele, both sworn to secrecy.
Sensitively directed by Thom Southerland, the show comes alive with Maury Yeston’s beautiful melodies, delightfully sung by the impressive cast and played by an excellent 10-piece band (Musical Director: Dean Austin). Morgan Large’s atmospheric stage design consists of a series of walled arches that can easily be adapted. Jonathan Lipman’s elegant costumes add to the aristocratic setting.
A delightful chamber musical about the power of love to conquer death.
Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Scott Rylander and Annabel Vere
Death Takes a Holiday is playing at the Charing Cross Theatre until 4 March 2017