The Theatreguide.London Review
Death Takes A Holiday
Charing Cross Theatre 2017
Talented director Thom Southerland continues his campaign of staging revivals of lost or under-appreciated musicals with this 2011 entry from Thomas Meeham and Peter Stone (book) and Maury Yeston (songs).
And if Death Takes A Holiday turns out to be not quite a lost masterpiece, more silver than gold, it serves very nicely as a showcase for both the director and his talented cast.
The musical is a gothic romance in the spirit of The Phantom Of The Opera. Like the 90-year-old Italian play it is based on, it imagines the Grim Reaper, puzzled by why people fear and resist him so much, choosing to take human form for a weekend to experience human passions.
He falls in love with a girl and she with him, and now understanding the preciousness of life, he must decide who, if anyone, he will take with him when he leaves.
(If that premise sounds familiar, both the original Italian play and others with similar stories, like On Borrowed Time and The Life Of Death, have been repeatedly filmed.)
A potential problem with the Meeham-Stone book is that the ending – who leaves with Death – isn't unambiguously satisfying, and there are other stumbling blocks – one subplot shoehorned forcefully in and others left unresolved – that may get in the way of your being fully absorbed into the play's reality.
Maury Yeston's songs are more than serviceable without being as memorable or haunting as, say, Lloyd Webber's for Phantom.
He provides each of the romantic leads with two or three dramatic ballads, hers largely variants on the 'What is this strange feeling I'm having?' theme, his on 'So this is what emotion is, and I'm not sure I like it.'
Yeston relies a little too frequently on the same gimmick to give his songs dramatic climaxes, repeated the last line minus the final word several times with mounting emotion before finally hitting the last word (As in – and this is not an actual example from the score – 'I am in, I am in, I am in love.')
Zoe Doano and Chris Peluso as the lovers each do full justice to the dramatic demands of their roles, he in particular moving believably and chillingly from boyish delight in new experiences like reacting to a pretty girl to menacing anger when he is crossed in any way.
Both sing not only beautifully but with full understanding and communication of their songs' dramatic power, though both are repeatedly sabotaged by the kind of clumsy sound engineering that has the performer over here while his or her voice comes from somewhere over there.
Director Southerland not only guides his cast – which also includes Mark Inscoe, Kathryn Akin and Gay Soper shining in key roles – to the full exploration of the play's dramatic potential, but also moves his cast around the stage and through the many scene changes with balletic fluidity.
Choreographer Sam Spencer-Lane undoubtedly contributes to that graceful movement, but has only two real dance numbers, a teach-me-to-dance duet for Death and one of the secondary girls that doesn't quite work, and a joy-of-living number for the whole cast that does, filling the stage with inventive and beautiful patterns.
Ultimately, while you come away from Death Takes A Holiday certain that director and performers have done the best job possible with this material, you also sense that what they had to work with was good – at moments very good – but not wonderful.
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Review - Death Takes A Holiday - Charing Cross Theatre 2017