Death Takes a Holiday Review at the Charing Cross Theatre
It's not just death that's taking a century's-earned holiday at Charing Cross Theatre, but also flop shows, too: a London venue that had for too long become associated with a succession of dire musicals has finally come back from theatrical purgatory and found its feet again. With Thom Southerland, a director who came through the fringe with impressive revivals of shows at Catford's Broadway Studio, the Landor and Southwark Playhouse, now installed as artistic director under the arches, this theatre has a renewed vigour and rigour.
With two musicals with scores by Maury Yeston book-ending a sumptuous actor-musician revival of Ahrens and Flaherty's Ragtime that was one of last year's very best musical productions anywhere, this theatre is now truly on the map again.
And it has enabled them to take the risk with this British premiere for a 2011 Off-Broadway entry from Yeston, that is bold, dangerous and electrifying. It's not many musicals that put the Grim Reaper on stage as an active character, still less portrays him realising human emotions of love which means he takes a break from his usual duties -- not just in the house where he has come, as he always is, as an uninvited guest, but worldwide.
While death is (temporarily) suspended, love blossoms, proving the show's central thesis: "Love is stronger than death." As alluringly scored by the ever-romantic Yeston, it's a show that soars with melody and shimmers with emotion. And Thomas Meehan and Peter Stone's book, which follows Death on his visit to a newly-engaged couple who have a car crash on their way back from their engagement party, it sets up a violent collision, in every sense, of emotions that derails the engagement, as Death (played by the stunning American performer Chris Peluso, who previously made such an impression in the West End in Miss Saigon and Show Boat) casts a spell over Gazia Lamberti (the radiant Zoe Doano).
As has become customary in Southerland productions, the singing is gorgeous, the musical direction (Dean Austin) impeccable, and the design exquisite (the architectural sets are by Morgan Large, with beautiful costumes by Jonathan Lipman). The show is a treat for the eyes, ears and heart.
What the Press Said...
"Nicely costumed piffle of the highest order."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"Southerland directs the show gracefully, Morgan Large’s designs have a weathered beauty, and the cast is good."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"It's sometimes hard to keep a straight face, as when Death complains about his work-load..."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"the production has clear virtues: a handsome design by Morgan Large, Dean Austin’s sparkling 10-piece band, and the lustrous soprano voice of Zoë Doano as Grazia."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard