Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Theater Review: Death Takes a Holiday

Location: Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street, NY, NY

Website: Official Roundabout Theatre site

Starring: Kevin Earley, Jill Paice, Michael Siberry, Rebecca Luker, Matt Cavenaugh, Mara Davi, Don Stephenson, Max von Essen

My Review: Death Takes a Holiday would be a pretty good student production. Unfortunately, it’s a professional one that stars professional actors and charges professional ticket prices.

Based on a play and the 1934 movie of the same name, Death Takes a Holiday is a new musical playing in the current Roundabout Theatre season. Death, in the form of a handsome man, wants to take a break from collecting souls and see what it’s like to live as a mortal, so he invites himself to a summer weekend at Duke Lamberti’s Italian villa. The Duke agrees to play host to Death’s experiment, on the condition that none of the many guests staying at the villa will be taken by Death when he leaves. But when Death meets the Duke’s newly engaged daughter, Grazia, he instantly falls in love with her, and she finds herself smitten with him (despite her new fiancĂ© also being in town for the weekend). Will Death keep his promise to the Duke, or will he take Grazia when the weekend is over? Will Grazia listen to her father’s warnings to stay away from the handsome stranger, or is there a force beyond her control drawing her to him? And most importantly, will anyone remember this musical once they’ve seen it?

Everything about Death Takes a Holiday is amateurish in the worst possible way. The plot plods at a snail’s pace, the characters a superficial and unsympathetic, the songs are tuneless and unmemorable, and the resolution to the whole thing is nonexistent. It so desperately wants to be a sweeping epic love story set to music—in the same vein as The Phantom of the Opera—but it never fleshes out it’s characters enough to make the audience care about them, and it never stops wink-winking at the fantastical story to be emotionally resonant. The entire two and a half hours is peppered with groan-worthy death puns (“I was scared to death!”) that you might chuckle at once if you were caught off guard, but when constantly revisited they only serve to remind you that the plot is totally unrealistic, so why should what happens really matter.

Perhaps the most unforgivable element of the production is how bad the music is. There are plenty of less-than-stellar musicals in existence, but if they manage to include one or two memorable songs, the audience will forgive them all the other shortcomings. Most of the songs in Death Takes a Holiday sound like stream of consciousness prattling set to music; the sort of noise someone who hates musical theater would make while mocking musical theater. The songs could have (and probably should have) easily been removed and replaced by straight dialog, but someone decided this production had to be a musical, despite the fact that it clearly works better as a play.

Bottom Line: There are so many more things wrong with Death Takes a Holiday, but I was bored enough while watching it that I really don’t feel like putting myself through it a second time while recalling all its failings. It may be the death of me! *rim shot* 

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