Another night at the Charing Cross Theatre. Another Maury Yeston musical. Another charmingly directed production from Thom Southerland as Death Takes a Holiday sweeps onto the stage.
In a gorgeously opulent Italian Palazzo, Death (Chris Peluso) arrives in human form to delight in the pleasures of mortal life. He has sought out the home of the affluent Duke, whose daughter he saved when flung from a speeding car; the beautiful Grazia (Zoe Doano). Only the Duke knows his secret, and must protect his identity until he departs at midnight in two days’ time.
When Death arrives, disguised as a mysterious Russian Prince, a darkly gothic romance intensely grows, as Grazia is swept up in the brooding charm of his dashing masquerade. As her father becomes fearful of his potent effect on his daughter, the intoxication of love takes hold and Grazia begins to imagine a life beyond the living.
Yeston’s score soars with grand melodies delivered by Dean Austin’s powerful orchestra, and there are certainly Phantom of the Opera undertones as the Gothic essence weaves through his music. There are a few stand out numbers including ‘More and More’ and ‘Alone Here With You’ but overall it lacks those deep, soulful numbers that really make your heart leap.
Chris Peluso and Zoe Doano are magnificently wonderful as the two leads. With such a shining vocal talent they give a stirring performance throughout and really amp up the romance in the balladey numbers. They have strong support from the rest of the cast, particularly Gay Soper and Anthony Cable as the touching old companions.
There’s no denying that Southerland’s production is super stylish and oozing in twenties glamour. The hazy, evocative design from Morgan Large creates an eerie atmosphere and beautifully sets the tone. As always, the use of the space at Charing Cross is carefully considered and proves itself to be on a par with the grand West End stages.
I admire Southerland’s passion in reviving unfamiliar musicals. It’s an intriguing and unusual tale, but sometimes verges on a bit Disney-esque with some camp humour and cheesy lines ‘I love you more than life itself’ Grazia says to Death. It may not be the strongest musical I have seen from the Southerland/Tarento powerhouse but without doubt another success, and it will keep me eagerly awaiting their next production.
(Photo courtesy of by Scott Rylander and Annabel Vere)