This new musical isn’t so much about the death drive, as the drive to shag Death. It reaches Charing Cross Theatre after premiering off-Broadway in 2011 – reuniting artistic director Thom Southerland with composer and lyricist Maury Yeston, who also wrote the score for ‘Titanic’, which Southerland has also directed.
Based on a 1928 Italian play that also inspired the Brad Pitt-starring film ‘Meet Joe Black’, ‘Death Takes a Holiday’ finds the Grim Reaper doing just that. After letting Grazia Lamberti (Zoe Doano) survive a car accident that should have killed her, he drops in on her family for the weekend. Disguised as Prince Nikolai Sirki, Death sets out to try to understand why people are so afraid of him – and falls in love in the process.
Southerland's staging is pure gothic romance. The set – a blue-hued, vine-covered Italian villa – is backlit like it’s going out of fashion, and the cast’s clothes are increasingly funereal.
Yeston gets a lot of mileage out of the show’s premise in his music. He mixes the baroque and the comic, with some affecting lyrics. Thomas Meehan’s and Peter Stone’s book, meanwhile, just about undercuts those moments when everything starts to feel like a Bonnie Tyler music video served with a side of ham.
Chris Peluso is supernaturally handsome as Death. He’s also sinister on a coin-spin, flicking deftly between childlike joy at a plate of eggs to blank-faced menace when denied what he wants. But the other characters are pretty thinly drawn (women get a raw deal here) and Southerland never really tackles the show’s queasy portrayal of suicide as the ultimate romantic act.