F Scott Fitzgerald’s Roaring ’20s, with everyone living life to the full, provides the perfect scenario for a musical about Death – or rather what happens when Death Takes A Holiday.
Based on Alberto Cassella’s La Morte In Vacanza, the fantasy romance, Death Takes A Holiday, was made popular when Brad Pitt starred in the 1998 film version, Meet Joe Black.
Maury Yeston’s musical version opened last night in London’s Charing Cross Theatre and, while the show tunes were gloriously performed, the production was let down by Thomas Meehan and Peter Stone’s overblown dialogue that limped from camp quips to absurdly grandiose.
Some lines were so shockingly bad that Chris Peluso’s Death looked almost embarrassed to say them.
The unintentionally lifeless plot intermittently sparkled with super individual performances from Samuel Thomas’s airman, Eric Fenton, who watched his best friend die in a dog-fight, to the always reliable James Gant injecting some humour into the story as the nervous butler Fidele.
While we should have been rooting for Peluso’s enigmatic and darkly engaging stranger and his obsession with the effervescent Grazia (Zoe Doano) you couldn’t help but be drawn to Gay Soper and Anthony Cable’s halting twilight romance.
If Death Takes A Holiday was about anything, it was about the transience and cruelty of love. Here was an elderly man and woman granted an unexpected a fleeting moment of togetherness after fate robbed them of a lifetime’s love.
It was beautifully played and brought real warmth to the production.
The show is crammed with musical numbers – 24 including three reprises – giving little space for the cast to act. A few sentences given here and there and we’re into another tune. I yearned for a half decent plot and some action.
Director Thom Southerland, who has a fondness for Maury Yeston musicals, did a masterful job with his Titanic and Grand Hotel productions but here he fails to excite, coming up with a surprisingly quaint, rather old-fashioned show.
This chamber piece is largely operatic, with some big voices in the 14-strong cast. The musical numbers are undoubtedly stirring but so out of step when compared to the style and design of modern musicals.
Peluso literally does come alive when he sings Alive! It’s a rare moment of animation from Death who refuses to take the soul of car accident victim Grazia and instead becomes human for the weekend in order to experience life and love.
His duets with Doano are breathtaking. Alone Here With You and More and More will give goosebumps while Death, disguised as a Russian nobleman, toys with ragtime and Helen Turner’s flirtatious Alice for Shimmy Like They Do In Paree.
But, dramatically, he has little to do other than stand around and smoulder. The bubbly Doano wears some smashing frocks and gushes a bit about being in love – and that’s it. No-one is given any room to drive the story on other than through song.
The show, nicely lit and wonderfully orchestrated, is only five years old yet feels like a quirky museum piece from the 1930s. It’s a real oddity.
Death Takes A Holiday runs at Charing Cross Theatre until March 4.
Death Takes A Holiday
Death Takes A Holiday is over-stuffed is songs and lacking a well-plotted story but includes some emotionally stirring duets from Chris Peluso & Zoe Doano.