Friday, August 05, 2011

Gotham Gal Review: Death Takes a Holiday

Synopsis:  In Death Takes a Holiday, it's just after the first World War and the loneliest of souls arrives at an Italian villa disguised as a handsome young Prince, and for the first time experiences the joys and heartbreaks of life. But when he unexpectedly falls in love with a newly engaged young woman, the mysterious stranger discovers that love may in fact be stronger than death. Directed by Tony® winner Doug Hughes (Doubt), this soaring tale of love is adapted by Tony®-winning writers Peter Stone (1776) and Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray), and features lush, romantic songs by Tony® winner Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic).

Last night I went to see the new off-Broadway show DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY, produced by the Roundabout Theatre company. I absolutely adore the 1934 film with Frederic March (didn't even bother to watch the remake MEET BRAD PITT), so I was anxious to see how they adapted the story.  The film is based on an Italian play that was written right after the first World War when so many young men lost their lives, so there is a poignancy to the story of Death coming to Earth to take a holiday and learning about love and loss, and how what he does affects people.

Unfortunately I was very disappointed in both the show and several of the performances.  My first disappointment was discovering that the lead actor, Julian Ovenden (FOYLE'S WAR, THE FORSYTHE SAGA) had to leave the show because of vocal problems. Just from seeing the stills from the show, and a brief clip, I could tell just how right he would have been for the lead role. Death should be sexy, mysterious and a bit sinister.  The actor who replaced him, Kevin Early while a fine singer, just didn't have the acting chops for the role. He also looks more like a Midwestern farmer than either the Russian Prince he impersonates or Death. Jill Paice, who plays his love interest, plays Grazia as a giddy, naive woman, who flutters her hands alot and babbles on about true love. I found it hard to believe that they fell in love at first sight or that they are soulmates.

It doesn't help that the score is also unmemorable. I can't remember a single melody from the show, nothing stuck.  LOVE NEVER DIES was not a great show but the title tune sticks with you, even though its annoying. One song in DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY sounded like something that was left on the cutting room floor by the creators of the 1920's pastiche musical THE BOYFRIEND. The biggest weakness in the show, however, is the denouement. Death has told Grazia's father that he has decided not to take her with him, he goes to tell her, but she's not frightened of him after he reveals his true nature, and they embrace. End of show.  She never tells her parents of her decision, or why she's going.  There needs to be a song when she explains to her family why she has made the decision that she's made, and how even though she's unhappy to leave them, she's fulfilling her destiny.  The 1934 film has such a scene where Death and Grazia go off together, after she explains why.

The set was lovely and the costumes although generic 1920's were very pretty.  I enjoyed some of the performances of the minor characters incuding Simon Jones and the butler, but all in all, it was a pretty dull evening.

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