I wasn't sure what to expect from Death Takes a Holiday. I should admit have not seen any other Maury Yeston shows so I have nothing to compare this to. Moreover, the new musicals I have liked as of late (Passing Strange, Next to Normal) would bear no resemblance to this show. However, I do love classic old musicals and went in with the expectation that this material would be closer in spirit to them.
I was disappointed that Julian Ovenden had to leave the cast. After reading a couple of articles about him, it sounded like he was fantastic and here was my big chance to see him...and then laryngitis befell him and he was out.
But I had bought my ticket already so off I went. First off, someone in the theater smelled of pee. Now I don't know who it was but it definitely changes the tone of the evening when all you can smell is pee. In addition, I seemed to surrounded by middle-aged people who it turns out all knew each other ("Judy, oh my Gawd. I cannot believe it. What are YOU doing heah?" "Judy are you freezing. I am freezing. I wore this scarf because I am freezing."). These patrons in their wonderful whiny voices felt the need to shout across me before the performance and I could still hear them when the show started (inside voices kids, use your inside voices). Yeah. A great atmosphere to prime me for a musical about life in Italy in the 1920's....
But as soon as it started I forgot the smell of pee and the annoying whiners who couldn't get tickets to Book of Mormon (suck it Judy--I saw it months ago pre-Tony's--evil cackle)...
Kevin Earley was Julian Ovenden's understudy and permanently replaced Ovenden in the show. Earley looks like a young Tate Donovan (excellent). But he's got a sucky job, because he's Death. No one likes him. And awkwardly life's a bitch for Death. So he takes a well-needed break for a weekend. But really it's all about a girl.
And so they sing...and sing...lush number after number of longing, sadness, loss, love. And each song sounds gorgeous. His counterpart in "lurve" is Jill Paice who has a delightful voice. I was excited to see Rebecca Luker who I have not seen on stage since The Secret Garden (my fault, for shame). Everyone on stage is talented and lovely. But somewhere in the Act 2 I was getting a little bored of all this gorgeous singing. How can that be a complaint you ask? Well each song started to sound the same as the last. It all came across with the same tone, intensity and musical sound.
There was a little comic relief but not much. There were a few funny lines but the comic bits generally fell flat. I am pretty sure the leading man's fly was down for a good part of Act 1. Yes, I was looking at his crotch. But only because I am sure his fly was down! And I don't think this really counts as intentional comic relief...but I welcomed it. This show needed a little life blood. I know it's about Death and death is a downer but somewhere between death and love hilarity can also ensue. They had the space for comic relief, and tried a little of it, but what they had didn't hit the right notes.
I just kept thinking I could forgive the musical monotony because it was gorgeous if the scenes in between had some pep, verve or life. But they didn't.
In addition, the cast felt bloated to me. When the grandmother started singing about her love life, I worried the maid would also get a shot at singing about her love life as well. I started to feel that there were too many characters and their individual journeys were not moving along the main plot. Some characters showed up with little explanation and then basically disappeared (Matt Cavenaugh you're gorgeous, great voice, but underutilized here...yet thanks for coming to the party in tear-away pants). Others seem to get more stage time than necessary (the brother's widow? no offense but why is she there?).
Now I see a lot of three hour theater. I am not afraid of it. But this show is 2 and a half hours and I felt it. My interest started to wain. I wanted them to either get together or for Death to do someone in (even if it was the pee-soaked theater patron or Judy).
Death Takes a Holiday is like a meringue cookie. One bite is light, airy, sweet and delicious. Three bites later it's exactly the same. It is firmly consistent in taste but does not get more interesting or dynamic. After a while the sweetness became cloying to me. Others might not mind so much.
Nevertheless I'm glad I saw it. It is worth hearing the wonderful, luscious voices on display. I hope Kevin Earley gets more work from being able to be showcased front and center here.
The audience politely clapped but there were few patrons on their feet at curtain call. I thought the cast did a fantastic job with the material they were given.