Photo credit: Scott Rylander
Death Takes a Holiday, starring Miss Saigon's Chris Peluso and Les Misérables' Zoë Doano, combines the dramatic melodies of Phantom of the Opera with the sweepingly romantic tunes of Disney's Beauty and the Beast into one beautifully atmospheric package. It's another winner for artistic director Thom Southerland at the Charing Cross Theatre.
With a book by Peter Stone (Annie Get Your Gun, Titanic) and Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray), this musical is set on the outskirts of Venice. As Grazia and her family drive home following her engagement party she gets into a terrible accident. Yet, while she is flung out of the car she stays completely unscathed. Death, enchanted by Grazia's beauty, decides to spare her life. He visits the family home that weekend taking on the form of a distant family acquaintance who has just died, in an attempt to learn about human emotion.
Grazia's father knows the truth but Death forces him to keep up the guise in front of his family. That is, however, easier said than done. As Death attempts to understand love, Grazia's jealous fiancé starts investigating the unexpected visitor as he feels something is not quite right.
If that story sounds somewhat familiar that is because the source material, 1924 Italian play La Morte in Vacanza by Alberto Casella, was also adapted into Hollywood film Meet Joe Black in the 1990s, starring Brad Pitt as Death. The musical version stays closer to the original, set in 1920s Italy instead of 20th century America. This is tale that wouldn't work well in a contemporary setting where the interference of technology would've made it a lot harder for Death to take on the guise of someone recently departed.
With a rather sinister protagonist and Gothic set and lightening design, this show is very much defined by its atmospheric nature. It's moody and dark, with Chris Peluso (Miss Saigon, Show Boat) as Death cutting a suitably ethereal figure through the foggy haze on stage. The score by Maury Yeston (Grand Hotel, Titanic) too is otherworldly, sounding like the musical offspring of the dramatic melodies of Phantom of the Opera and the sweepingly romantic tunes of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
The cast's performances were unanimously excellent, but it was Peluso that particularly stood out. His voice is perfectly suited for classic shows such as Phantom, Les Misérables and, of course, Miss Saigon, and hearing those powerful vocals ringing through the intimate Charing Cross Theatre was a sensation; I can listen to him sing all day long. He was complimented well by Zoë Doano (Les Misérables, Sweeney Todd) as Grazia. Their connection was gentle at first but blossoming towards a musically exquisite if somewhat ambiguous conclusion.
Death Takes a Holiday is another excellent addition to artistic director Thom Southerland's season at the Charing Cross Theatre. He has taken this previously unassuming performing space under the arches of the train station from strength to strength, and I cannot wait to see what musical gem he'll bring over for London audiences to discover next.