Regional Premier of Maury Yeston Musical Greeted with Great Enthusiasm and Awe
Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 27, 2016
The standing ovation at the show’s conclusion wasn’t enough. It was as if the audience was in reverent awe of what they had seen, and wanted to do more than merely stand and applaud. They were supporting not only the amazing cast, but supporting the director, the orchestra, the show’s authors. And maybe even delighted that “Death” had passed them by, so they could continue with the excitement of their own lives.
“Death” itself has probably never sounded better or looked more appealing. Peter Saide is a wonder as “Death.” He has been given a few days off, becoming a mere mortal. He takes the form of Prince Nikolai Sirki, a Russian Prince who has recently committed suicide. He arrives at the villa of Duke Victoria Lamberti and his Italian family, requesting that he be their weekend guest. As “Death,” he has already taken a Lamberti son who died in combat in World War I. A few hours earlier he inexplicitly spared the Duke’s daughter, Grazia, in what could have been a fatal car crash.
Kristen Hann is transcendent as the beautiful Grazia, who is engaged to be married to another. When Prince Sirki and Grazia meet, it is as if time has stopped for each of them. Their chemistry is apparent and when they sing, time nearly does stop.
Following the carnage of World War I, Italian playwright, Alberto Casella put an interesting spin on death in a 1920 play, “La Morte in Vacanza.” In that play death takes on a human form for a little rest. The story turned up as an American movie in 1934 as “Death Takes a Holiday,” starring Fredric March. The play was the premise for the 1998 Brad Pitt film, “Meet Joe Black.”
Maury Yeston was intrigued by the idea. And following his Broadway successes — “Nine” and “Titanic” — created music and lyrics for the musical. The book is by Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan. “Death Takes a Holiday” is now on stage at the Arvada Center, under the inspired direction of Rod A. Lansberry. This production is the Regional Premier of the show.
Few at the Italian villa realize what is happening. “Death,” himself, isn’t quite sure. He is suddenly, and briefly, given mortality and has become childlike in his learning such basics as eating eggs for breakfast, feeling the touch of someone’s hand. He learns that mortals can have a loving and kind nature. The feelings of love and caring highlight the story. Love of man and wife, of brother and sister, of children and parents. At one point “Death” is amazed and ultimately greatly appreciative that a mortal being would give up everything for the well-being of someone else.
Yeston’s music is beautiful. A First Act highlight is the “Alone Here With You” duet sung by Hahn and Saide. The Second Act is one tremendous song after the other. Megan Van DeHey is completely convincing as the mother of the son killed in combat, singing about him (“Losing Roberto”). Saide and Hahn provide sparks and melody with their “More and More.” Saide nearly stops the show with his emotional “I Thought That I Could Live.” “December Time” is a lilting duet by Erica Sarzin-Borrillo and James Van Treuren as an aging Baron and Contessa, coming to terms with growing older. In a somewhat lighter moment Hahn as Grazia, Tessa Elyse as Daisy, and Emily Van Fleet as Alice share experiences of loves lost and found in “Finally to Know.”
While the basic subject is serious business, and songs are sometimes overly dramatic, the writers have been very clever in inserting moments of levity. There are interesting observations of young women looking for mates, and a few delightful musings as how “death” creeps into our language quite inappropriately. The two days “Death” is vacationing in Italy, there are no deaths worldwide. A would-be suicide victim jumps from the top of the Eiffel Tower, only to land upright and unscathed.
The cast is impeccable. Mark Rubald is very good as Duke Vittorio Lamberti, Grazia’s father. He is horrified and terrified at what hosting “Death” might do to his family. Gregory Price is clever as the family servant who is aware from the outset that the weekend visitor is not who he claims to be.
Everything about this production is perfection. The orchestra, the costumes, the set, the sound and lighting, the entire cast. “Death” isn’t to be feared. In fact, this show is something to be seen, admired, and to awaken some senses that might be passing us by.
“Death Takes a Holiday”
Where: Arvada Center For the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through May 15, 2016
Box Office 720/898-7200