CHARING CROSS THEATRE
(formerly the New Players Theatre)
DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY (musical)
Ends 4th March 2017.
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, starring Brad Pitt, and a lush, 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.
Death Takes A Holiday was nominated for 11 Drama Desk Awards when it premiered
Off Broadway in 2011.
Mark Inscoe, Zoë Doano and James Gant head the cast.
Photo (above) shows Chris Peluso (as Death/Prince Nikolai Sirki ) and Zoë Doano
Gay Soper and Antony Cable,
Zoe Doano, Scarlett Courtney.
Photo credit: Scott Rylander
James Gant, Death (left), Ken Christiansen, Fidele (right).
The company: Kathryn Akin; Anthony Cable; Trudi Camilleri; Scarlett Courtney; Sophie-May Feek; James Gant; Matthew McDonald; Gay Soper;
Ashley Stillburn; Samuel Thomas; Helen Turner.
Chris Peluso has now left the cast.
In 2017, a higher than average number of musicals are scheduled to open in
London. This is the first and, arguably, has the most intriguing premise of them
all. Death (Chris Peluso) decides to investigate life by taking a weekend off.
Disguised as Prince Nikolai Sirki, he inveigles his way into a house party
where, as luck would have it, there are three attractive daughters – and an
amusingly sexy maid (Sophie-May Feek).
What follows is almost a series of vignettes, on two themes. The unlikely
opening sequence of Grazia (Zoe Doano) walking away unhurt from a fatal car
crash sets up the first – that of who knows Death is among them, but cannot tell
even as others start to notice nothing is dying. The second has Death
encountering many permutations of love, with Grazia’s engagement to Corrado
(notably well-voiced Ashley Stillburn) breaking - freeing her to seek his heart;
even as another sister and house guest Alice (attractively energetic Helen
Turner) vie for the mystery Prince’s attentions.
This episodic approach gives the show a meandering structure and uneven pace.
Fortunately, there are sufficient highlights to move the tale towards its
Sirki’s “Alive,” his duet “Shimmy Like They Do in Paree” with Alice, Daisy and
Corrado’s “More and More,” followed by Grazia, Daisy (Scarlett Courtney) and
Alice’s “Finally to Know” are special theatrical moments. Best of all, the
inimitable Gay Soper and Anthony Cable as Evangelina and Dario share “December
Time,” a perfect hymn to later living.
As usual, director Thom Southerland makes the most of the small stage, designer
Morgan Large giving him two elegant swinging house walls and Matt Daw the
Italian light to assist. If the chair-waving car crash and home to grotto scenes
don’t quite work with the restrictions on staging, the overall simplicity of the
rest makes up for it – and allow maximum impact for choreographer Sam
Spencer-Lane occasional “grand dance” sequences.
In concept, score and structure, the entire show has elements of Sondheim’s
daring, Broadway greats Rogers, Hammerstein, Kern and Berlin’s eye for musical
emotion, and even Lloyd Webber’s ear for a popular contemporary tune – not to
mention the odd nod in visual appearance to “Aspects of Love” (“Aspects of
Most likely, this is going to be the only chance for musical theatre aficionados
to explore a fascinating episode in creators’ Maury Yeston, Thomas Meehan and
Peter Stone’s careers, staged on this scale in London. For connoisseurs, that
makes it as unmissable a musical theatre event as “Hamilton.” For everyone,
though, there is an appealing humanity and some fine performances wrapped in a
quite surprisingly sophisticated, unusual yet oddly enjoyable evening.