Sunday, July 31, 2011

How Delightful, 'Death Takes a Holiday'

Mara Davi, Rebecca Luker, Jay Jaski, Jill Paice, Max von Essen, Michael Siberry and Alexandra Socha in "Death Takes a Holiday." Photos by Joan Marcus.

BY TAMARA BECK

IN “Death Takes a Holiday,”
Death (Julian Ovenden) assumes human form so he can move among the living and figure out what makes people tick. While on this quest, he unexpectedly succumbs to a very human emotion.

The imaginations of Peter Stone, Thomas Meehan (book) and Maury Yeston (words and music) have turned the enduring film, originally made in 1934 from a play by Alberto Casella, into a musical. “Death Takes a Holiday,” staying at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre through 4 Sept., is oddly appealing.

JO, the handsome young British tenor, gives Death a wry sex appeal, but the character is not meek or mild even when he’s in love. JO lets Death exert a quiet menace as well so that most of the mortals about him tremble. JO’s Death has a joie de vivre. A less adorable actor could not convey the mixture of gleeful innocence and discovery with the threat that underlies his portrayal. (See video at http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/offbroadway/deathtakesaholiday/)

When Death first insinuates himself into the Lamberti household, Duke Vittorio Lamberti (Michael Siberry) and his butler, Fidele (Don Stephenson), know who or what they are dealing with. To most everyone else, Death is the Russian Prince, Nikolai Sirki, who has recently committed suicide in Paris.

Julian Ovenden as Death/Prince Nikolai Sirki and Jill Paice as Grazia Lamberti in "Death Takes a Holiday."

Though Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli (Linda Balgord) is nearly senile, the doyenne of the Lamberti family recognizes Death and only she neither fears nor desires him. On the other hand, her granddaughter, Grazia Lamberti (Jill Paice), a natural born risk-taker, and the object of Death’s affection, welcomes his advances. Not surprisingly, Grazia’s fiancé Corrado Montelli (Max von Essen) resents the seductive intruder.

Death’s excellent manners and good looks endear him to all the young women in the household. Alice (Mara Davi), the American widow of the Lambertis' son Roberto, is a flapper who gives Death, as Prince Nikolai, his first kiss. Even Grazia’s mother, Duchess Stephanie Lamberti (Rebecca Luker), is not immune to his charms. Their shock of recognition when they realize who the engaging Prince actually is overwhelms them all.

After a slow start, “Death Takes a Holiday” becomes an enjoyable and celebratory fable.

Visit http://www.roundabouttheater.org/ to learn more about “Death Takes a Holiday.”

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