BWW Review: DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY at Arvada Center
The musical Death Takes a Holiday, currently playing at the Arvada Center, doesn't just breathe a little life into Death--it makes him out to be a hopeless romantic.
Directed by Rod. A Lansberry and making its regional premiere, the show originally played off-Broadway in 2011. Adapted from a 1934 film of the same title, the storyline might seem as bit more familiar to modern audiences as Brad Pitt's 1998 flick Meet Joe Black. The musical is set just after World War I in 1922.
When Death (Peter Saide) comes to claim recently engaged Grazia (Kristen Hahn) after she's flung from a speeding car drunkenly driven by her fiancé, Corrado (Benjamin Wood), he's struck by her beauty and spares her. Death makes a deal with her father at the family's Italian villa, where he stays for a weekend in the form of Nikolai Sirki, a prince who recently committed suicide. He hopes to discover why he suddenly longs for human connection. (In the meantime, no one's dying.)
But her father, Duke Vittorio Lamberti (Mark Rubald) is the only one who knows the prince's true identity. (Aside from the lurking butler Fidele, played by Gregory Price.) Breaking off her engagement, Grazia falls quickly for the prince.
Saide's Death is debonair who can pull off a superb deadpan. His commanding vocals bring a powerful spirit to the reaper. Saide's final ballad "I Thought That I Could Live" is astounding. Hahn gives Grazia a vivacious disposition, flowing a lovely soprano tone throughout Maury Yeston's score. While her character may be frivolous, Hahn makes you understand her heart.
Megan Van De Hey (as Grazia's mother, Duchess Stephanie) gives a poignant performance of "Losing Roberto," about her late son. Andrew Diessner, as Roberto's friend from war Eric Fenton, stuns with his ballad "Roberto's Eyes." As Alice, Emily Van Fleet's "Shimmy Like They Do in Paree" is an unexpected toe-tapper. There's as endearing subplot between the aging Baron Dario Albione (James Van Treuren) and his lifelong love Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli (Erica Sarzin-Borrillo). Bright-eyed newcomer Tessa Elyse as Daisy Fenton is one to watch. It seems as though every cast member has something to offer.
It was interesting to see an ensemble of familiar local actors used simply as a choreographed stage crew. I kept hoping to see them used a bit more; still, the squad dressed as butlers and maids provide a swift and exquisite layer to a portion that could have been overlooked. They include Maggie Davenport, Kitty Hilsabeck, Chanel Karimkhani, Brett Ambler, Andrew Keeler and Daniel Traylor.
Choreography by Hilsabeck is gracefully showcased. Costumes designed by Claire Henkel are gorgeous. Brian Mallgrave's stunning set transforms from scene to scene with artistic ease.
Thomas Meehan and the late Peter Stone's book at times has a somewhat satirical view of death, which balances a story that nearly overflows with too much amour. Yet a consistent hopefulness remains at the forefront, keeping the story engaging.
What's remarkable is how elegantly death is branded as simply beautiful, not tragic. And who knew the grim reaper could be such a softy?
Death Takes a Holiday plays The Arvada Center for Arts and Humanities through May 15. For ticket information, visit ArvadaCenter.org or contact the box office at (720)898-7200.
Photos courtesy of P. Switzer Photography.