Roundabout Theatre Company
Todd Haimes, Artistic Director
Death Takes a Holiday
Book by Thomas Meehan and Peter Stone
Music & Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Directed by Doug Hughes
Choreography by Peter Pucci
Music Supervision & Director: Kevin Stites
Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/
Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre
111 West 46th Street
New York, NY
(Roundabout Laura Pels Theatre Website)
Linda Balgord, Matt Cavenaugh, Mara Davi
Kevin Earley, Joy Hermalyn, Jay Jaski, Simon Jones
Rebecca Luker, Patricia Noonan, Jill Paice, Michael Siberry
Alexandra Socha, Don Stephenson, Max von Essen
Set Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Jon Weston
Hair & Wig Design: Tom Watson
Orchestrations: Larry Hochman
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Production Stage Manager: James FitzSimmons
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA & Kate Boka, CSA
Production Management: Aurora Productions
General Manager: Rachel E. Ayers
Director of Marketing & Sales Promotion: David B. Steffen
Founding Director: Gene Feist
Associate Artistic Director: Scott Ellis
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 10, 2011
The Roundabout’s Death Takes a Holiday, with a book by Thomas Meehan and Peter Stone, and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, is based on a 1929 play by Alberto Casella and a 1934 film adaptation. I can’t wait to find the film. This new musical is one of the most transporting I’ve seen in years, evocative of Brief Encounter and The Fantasticks, uncluttered, offstage instrumental ensemble, and mystical ambiance, with music and lyrics that seem suspended like raindrops. Also thrilling was Kevin Early, who stars as Death and Prince Nikolai Sirki, formerly the understudy for Julian Ovenden, who left the show early on from laryngitis. Mr. Early is impassioned, vocally astounding, and imbued with operatic flair. He’s the centerpiece of this play, the mastermind of fate, and I hung on every note that emanated from this splendid performer.
An engagement is being celebrated in 1921 Venice, and the revelers are driving home to the family Villa Felicita, in the hills. A dark shadow creeps in and the snazzy automobile suddenly careens and crashes, with the fiancée, Grazia Lamberti (Jill Paice) thrown from her seat. It’s assumed they’ve lost her, with her parents, Duke Vittorio Lamberti (Michael Siberry) and Duchess Stephanie Lamberti (Rebecca Luker) onboard and frantic. Grazia’s fiancé, Corrado Montelli (Max von Essen) and chauffeur Lorenzo (Jay Jaski) take the heat, until Grazia appears, in a breathless daze, and not one tare or stain is on her filmy long dress. Her hair remains in place, and she seems touched by an angel, although she’s been spared by Death. That is, Mr. Early, as Death, fell in love at first sight, just like the fairytales, and he takes the weekend off, until midnight Sunday, to be closer to this stunning vision.
Death arrives at the Lambertis’ door in the form of Prince Sirki of Minsk, Russia, that very night, about three AM, in a white regal outfit, and, as in the fairytales, everyone is in perfect dress, hair, and makeup to receive him. All the women swoon and mentally rearrange their lives, the moment his gaze catches their eyes. Alice Lamberti (Mara Davi) is the most smitten, as she’s been lonely in Paris, after losing her husband, Roberto Lamberti, Grazia’s brother, in a World War I plane shootout. Alice gets the Prince alone for a sexy, forced dance, but when he comes close, she senses he’s not what he seems. Sophia (Patricia Noonan), the housemaid, is smitten, as well, and offers to be at Prince Sirki’s command. Cora (Joy Hermalyn) the cook has lust on her face, a face that’s iconically camp. But it’s Grazia that Prince Sirki desires, and only her father, the Duke, knows who he is. That is, except for the Duke’s majordomo, Fidele (Don Stephenson), a vaudevillian actor with adorable gestures and manner.
One woman, alone, wants Grazia to disappear hand in hand with Prince Sirki, and that’s Daisy Fenton (Alexandra Socha), who wants Corrado to herself, what a tangled web, and all set to lilting refrains. Also at the Villa is Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli (Linda Balgord), Grazia’s grandmother, who lost her husband, Mario, and confuses him with her longtime lover and doctor, Dario (Dr. Dario Albione, Simon Jones). Their love story is a sub-plot that allows for additional solo songs. One more character, who had flown in the War with Roberto, is Major Eric Fenton, Daisy’s brother (Matt Cavenaugh), who arrives well into the production and gets a solo, as well. Among the Act I songs are “Life is a Joy”, with gorgeous melodies and a rousing ensemble treatment, followed by a smaller ensemble reprise, later in the Act. Grazia sings “How Will I Know”, shortly after meeting Death/Sirki, who follows with two of his own solos, “Centuries” and “Why Do All Men”. The opening number, “In the Middle of Your Life”, is reprised as the closer, bookending the show with lead solos. Kevin Stites leads the small orchestra, with noteworthy string (violin, cello, bass) highlights.
Ms. Paice is winsome, rapturous, and sprightly, with vocal talent that’s sure to bring her back on Broadway in future seasons. Mr. Early encompasses the “star is born” quality, having assumed the role on opening night and created thick chemistry with Ms. Paice that’s palpable and persuasive. Each character has a unique look, a tribute to the casting, with nothing generic onstage, ever. Mr. von Essen is the quintessential jilted fiancé, pacing and seething, with a tortured persona. His one big number was “What Do You Do”, with Alexandra Socha, as Daisy, begging for attention. Mara Davi, as Alice, is also Dance Captain, and it’s easy to see why. She brought Death to the dance floor in sensual abandon. His first kiss, with Alice, woke him like Sleeping Beauty. Michael Siberry and Rebecca Luker, as Grazia’s parents, were regal and stately, with Mr. Siberry powerful and intense, as he fought with Death for his daughter’s life. Simon Jones and Linda Balgord, in their own romantic interludes, made the most of the spotlight.
Derek McLane’s set creates Italian columns with flowers and landscape, as well as luxurious fainting couches in gold. Catherine Zuber’s costumes match the chiffony curtains with soft elegance, expanding the dream-like imagery. The men are in time appropriate 1920’s attire, and Major Fenton’s arrival had him in military dress that whipped off to formal finery. (By the way, his solo, “Roberto’s Eyes”, was sung with clarity and poignancy.) Jon Weston’s sound enhanced the shifting harmonies in the vocals, with notes softly arriving where they belong, then expanding in operatic strength. Kenneth Posner’s lighting was most captivating in the final midnight scene, with deep blues, then hazy spiritual beams. The Orchestra added refined thematic harmonies and concert-like solos, and Peter Pucci’s choreography had just the right kick and swing, for this compact, small stage. Doug Hughes directed for thick chemistry between Death/Sirki and Grazia, and Grazia’s graceful interior stroll past her family, as she’s supposed to be heading toward the shore, was a clever directorial device, making the most of the audience’s imagination. I do plan to see this production again, just to be swept away in its aura. Kudos to the Roundabout Theatre Company.
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