Monday, July 11, 2011

Death Takes a Holiday

Death Takes a Holiday is a lovely, old-fashioned musical, with an inviting score by Maury Yeston (which sounds somewhat like his Titanic). The frequently charming book by Thomas Meehan and Peter Stone offers few surprises but many pleasures. The female lead, Jill Paice, disappointing in Chess, is sweet, pretty, and likeable here and sings beautifully. Julian Ovenden as Death is everything he needs to be. His joy at discovering sensations is endearing and touching, and he too sings beautifully. (However, it would behoove director Doug Hughes to move Ovenden upstage a bit, as watching him spit on the first row is quite distracting.)

The supporting cast includes the underutilized Linda Balgord, the delightful Alexandra Socha, the ever-reliable Michael Siberry, and the I-have-no-idea-why-people-keep-casting-him Matt Cavenaugh, whose voice is as harsh and nasal as ever. The direction is largely solid, though the blocking makes Death's first song invisible to much of the left-hand-side of the audience. Also, Hughes and Meehan allow some of the relationships and plot points to remain murky. I can't help but wonder what the late and much-missed Peter Stone would have done with the show had he lived; clearly, the man who wrote the brilliant book for 1776 was a master at lucid exposition. The set design by Derek McLane is attractive and enhances the mood from the gauzy white show curtain through the twinkling night ski--though a few more set pieces (missing due to budgetary concerns?) might have better differentiated the grotto from the bedroom.

Kudos to the Roundabout for putting this show in the charming Laura Pels theatre, where every seat is at least reasonably close to the stage and no ticket costs more than $86. (Yes, these days $86 is a ticket price worth commending. Sigh.) Kudos too to designer Scott McKowen for yet another wonderful, evocative poster.

[spoilers below]

Having never before seen any version of Death Takes a Holiday, I enjoyed watching the plot unfold. However, at the end, when Grazia chooses to die to remain with Death, I found it a cruel decision. Her parents have already lost a child; her friends will miss her terribly. But then it occurred to me that this sort of decision was made millions of times by real people in the days before telephones and easy international travel. When Hodel sings "Far From the Home I Love" in Fiddler, she too is leaving her loved ones forever--and she too is willing to die for the man she loves. Yet her decision to leave never struck me as cruel to her family, but just as terribly sad.

Also, do you suppose there is divorce in dead-people land? If not, I sure hope Grazia and Death remain besotted with one another forever. As in, FOREVER.

(Despite my lack of romance here, I cried at the end when Death took Grazia's hand and they died happily ever after.)

(tdf ticket, $30something, first row, last seat on audience left, preview performance)


Anonymous said...

i enjoyed it too -i was there sunday afternoon--and i felt bad for the first row getting showered on by his singing....yes...MOVE BACK!

Cameron Kelsall said...

Drafting my review, which should be up in a few days. We agree, as usual, about Cavenaugh--although you certainly liked the overall show more than me.

Wendy Caster said...

Looking forward to your review!

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