Sunday, 5 February 2017

'Death Takes A Holiday' at Charing Cross Theatre

Charing Cross Theatre is getting a good reputation for putting on rarely produced musicals such as the excellent 'Titanic' and 'Ragtime' last year. It opens the New Year with the European premier of 'Death Takes a Holiday' by Maury Yeston who also wrote 'Titanic' and co-wrote the marvellous 'Grand Hotel'. I've never heard of 'Death Takes a Holiday' but it's previously been a film and a play and who knows what else because of it's intriguing premise.

The core of the story is a figurative Death who takes a weekend off so no-one in the world dies. He's weary after collecting so many souls during the First World War. Simple, isn't it? Or is it? What happens when Death becomes human to experience emotions for the first time, maybe to even fall in love, to feel passion and power? Who knows what might happen.

The play opens with the Duke's family and houseguests driving home from an evening in Venice to celebrate his daughter's engagement to her long-time fiancee who is driving. He crashes and she is thrown from the car, surely to be killed, but we find her in Death's arms in the mist and he chooses not to take her. He decides to take human form and visits her father, the Duke, to say he'll be turning up as a guest for the weekend and, if he says anything to the other guests, there'll be repercussions. Death then vanishes to change out of his black suit and short to appear again in a black suit and white shirt (a potential major transformation scene missed) with a suitcase to denote his 'guest' status.

I think it's these introductory scenes that helped to fix my view of this production and, in my view, what it lacks. Zoe Doano played Grazia, the Duke's daughter, and she was nice enough but her voice wasn't powerful enough and at times I couldn't hear her over the music - is that a sound problem or is she simply not projecting? Chris Peluso played Death in a really strange, muted way, quite wooden as a central character. I know he can do better since I saw him in 'Showboat' last year but he seems to have forgotten how to act and, in particular, what to do with his arms that hung like useless pieces of wood for a lot of the show, including the bows at the end.

I hate to be critical like this since everyone has obviously put a lot of work into the show - and this might've just been an off-night - but if the central characters don't engage you then the show's lost. It also felt like a few of the songs needed a bit more oomph, whether that's an edit of the songs or in how they were delivered I'm not sure. I can't actually remember any of them as I type this. I suspect the show needs a bit of judicious editing before it's put on again.

I love the premise behind this show and it's a great subject for a musical. I'm also very pleased that Charing Cross Theatre has put it on - shows need an audience - but not all shows are going to excel. 'Titanic' and 'Ragtime' were excellent but this falls below their standard. Sorry people, but, although I'm pleased I saw it, this production didn't work for me.

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