Robert Tanitch reviews Death Takes A Holiday at Charing Cross Theatre, London WC2
Alberto Casella wrote Death Takes A Holiday in 1924.
The total number of military and civilian deaths in World War 1 was 38 million. The 1918 influenza pandemic took another 50 million.
A great number of people in the early 1920’s would have felt Death really should take a holiday.
Maury Yeston’s chamber musical, with a book by Thomas Meehan and Peter Stone, opened in New York in 2011. Yeston is best known as the author of Titanic and Nine.
Thom Southerland’s production, simply and attractively designed by Morgan Large, is its London premiere. Southerland has directed Titanic, Grand Hotel and Ragtime. His directorial flair and expertise are much in evidence
Death Takes A Holiday is always on the cusp of being a great musical.
The Grim Reaper, having just killed Grazia, a young woman in a car crash, changes his mind and decides to have a fling with her instead. Death (Chris Peluso) decides to stop scything and take a three day break.
He turns up at her father’s villa on Lake Gardo in Northern Italy in handsome human form and passes himself off as a Russian Duke. Grazia (Zoe Doano) is already engaged but that doesn’t stop him.
Death has been played memorably on film by Maria Cesares in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus and by Max von Sydow in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Is Death always tragic? Brad Pitt was in a lighter, more comic and much prettier key.
Peluso’s Death can be sinister, dark, threatening and drop-dead romantic. The music soars operatically, especially when he and Doano sing “More and More”.
Samuel Thomas vividly remembers Death during the Great War and Gay Soper and Anthony Cable make a charming elderly couple.