Death Takes a Holiday, the new Maury Yeston, Thomas Meehan, Peter Stone musical ensconced at the underground grotto theatre named Laura Pels simply dulls the spirits. I couldn’t ever imagine that meeting “Death” face to face could be so listless as it is in this Roundabout production.
Not Maury Yeston’s finest hour. Actually, two and a half hours of sung dialogue interspersed with some MGM-ish, Andrew Lloyd Webber-ish flourishes and some old fashioned operetta-ish arias that fail to soar but which hold their last notes long after you have tired of hearing them, polite applause ensuing.
I have admired Mr. Yeston’s Nine and Titantic but this time out I started counting the roses, the thousands of roses, that adorn the trellises on the lovely but not very practical unit set of an Italian villa right after the end of WWI designed by Derek McLane. And when you start counting roses there obviously is a problem.
The score notwithstanding, Death Takes a Holiday has also lost its leading man Julian Ovenden to a severe case of laryngitis. What we get is Death warmed over as understudy Kevin Earley valiantly tries to make sense of a role that has him inviting himself as the Russian Prince Nikolai Sirki into the lives of the many guests of Duke and Duchess Lamberti (an exaggerated Michael Siberry and the down to earth Rebecca Luker) for a weekend in the country so that he can learn why everyone fears “Death”.
A weekend, following the near fatal car accident that he has caused, resulting in the Lamberti’s daughter Grazia (a Disney type heroine – Jill Paice) being thrown from the car and into a tizzy while returning from Venice with her fiancé Corrado (Max Von Essen).
The beauty and the beast meet and fall hopelessly in love. Will love conquer all? Will the power of love be stronger than that of death? Will he learn to like fried eggs?
This silly story has been based on a dramatic play by Alberto Casella and rewritten for the American stage by Walter Ferris and worked on for many a year by its creators both living and dead. Why?
The program wisely notes who the characters are and their relationships to one another which helps sort out the many people populating the stage. Not that it matters all that much.
Simon Jones keeps his head above water with his elegant and humorous portrayal of Doctor Albione. On the other hand we get an over the top Majordomo (Don Stephenson) who seems to have wandered in from a Feydeau farce.
I especially enjoyed the performance of Alexandra Socha as Daisy who after learning that the engagement between Grazia and Corrado is off is off and running after Corrado.
Matt Cavenaugh as an American aviator almost gets applause and the biggest laugh of the evening with his break-away costume. Speaking of which, Catherine Zuber has created some extremely beautiful, breathtaking period frocks for the women and formal wear for the men that at least gives us something to look at when the monotony of counting roses has ceased and the static staging by Doug Hughes has failed to bring Death to Life.
www.roundabouttheatre.org Through Sept. 4th.
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