The following review sites Julian Overden who was replaced by Kevin Early in the role of Prince Nikloai Sirki/Death.
Happiness and Death on an Italian Holiday
By Isa Goldberg
Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan’s musical adaptation of Alberto Casella’s play “Death Takes A Holiday” takes us to a remote place – a family holiday with death. But what sustains our fascination with this well-known and bizarre tale is Maury Yeston’s remarkable music and lyrics. The composer of such classic Broadway musicals as “Titanic” and “Grand Hotel,” Yeston is at his most enchanting here.
From the opening number “In the middle of your life/anything can happen,” the score affects a Sondheim-like quality. Conversational and operatic, Yeston’s lyrical phrasing and contrasting rhythms create an arresting, euphoric state. And as magically sung by Jill Paice (Grazia Lamberti), in a divine performance, the evening gets off on a high note.
No less affecting, Yeston’s simple lyrics to the love song, “Finally to Know,” performed as a round by Grazia, her sister-in-law Alice (Mara Davi) and her best friend Daisy (Alexandra Socha) is a classic Broadway-style melody. And there is a buoyancy to “Alive,” in which the central character, Death in the form of the Russian Prince Nikolai Sirki (played by Julian Ovenden), “breathlessly begins to taste every sight and sound and smell that soon arrive.” Indeed eggs, sunny side up, delivered by a seductive housemaid (Patricia Noonan) are enough to make him break his yoke, if not our own. Ovenden’s physicality, burning “with a passionate and unmistakable drive” expresses an exuberance that one can hardly expect of Death. The British musical comedy star, last seen on Broadway in “Butley,” takes possession of Grazia, and the audience, with an irresistible boyish charm. And as romantic duo, Ovenden and Paice, are inextricably bound beyond any earthly perceptions of chemistry.
In the Lamberti’s villa, shortly after World War I, we meet Grazia’s stuffy family, who are still coping with the death of their son, and are about to be faced by yet another loss in their daughter’s liaison with Prince Sirki. The musical’s persuasive message that “love is stronger than death” gets an unusual and comic airing.
Even the minor characters resonate in this production, particularly Don Stephenson as the majordomo. His Boris Karloff quality makes for some perspective skewing wit. Rebecca Luker as Grazia’s lifeless mother, fills the shadows that surround their lives. And Alexandra Socha as the tomboy diva infatuated with Grazia’s fiancé Corrado (Max von Essen) drives the story to a contemporary realistic edge. The others are no less affecting: Matt Cavenaugh as the Army Aviator who flew with Grazia’s late brother is dashing. Michael Siberry as the family patriarch holds the tale together, and Simon Jones and Linda Balgord play an ageing generation that still prevails.
Catherine Zuber’s period costumes offer some colorful intrusions on a story that is speeding to death. And Derek McLane’s sets are a sketchy, artificial representation of the lush Italian countryside. Doug Hughes’ direction is so discreet and inconspicuous, that you’ll feel totally swept up in this seemingly surreal romance. The strange but fetching narrative, the beautiful songs, and the belief that love transcends mere mortality make for one enchanted evening.
“Death Takes A Holiday” is a production of the Roundabout Theatre Company at The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Theatre, 111 West 46th St. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. For tickets call 212-719-1300, visit or go to the box office.
Photo: Joan Marcus