UPDATED! Kevin Earley Steps in for Ailing Star on Opening Night of Death Takes a Holiday Musical

News   UPDATED! Kevin Earley Steps in for Ailing Star on Opening Night of Death Takes a Holiday Musical
 
The question of why mortals cling so passionately to life hangs in the air of the new Maury Yeston-Thomas Meehan musical, Death Takes a Holiday, opening July 21 in a world-premiere Off-Broadway engagement. British star Julian Ovenden, as the title character, will miss his opening night due to laryngitis.

Julian Ovenden and Jill Paice
Julian Ovenden and Jill Paice Photo by Joan Marcus

The songs of Tony Award winner Yeston (Nine, Titanic) explore man's obsession with death (and life and love), and give voice to the supernatural character of the Grim Reaper himself, disguised as a Russian prince and charming almost everyone that he meets.

Previews for the Roundabout Theatre Company production at the Laura Pels Theatre began June 10. Kevin Earley performed the title role July 19-20, owing to an ailing Ovenden, and will play the opening-night show. Ovenden is expected to return next week, a spokesperson said. Earley's Broadway credits include Ernest Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities, Trevor Graydon in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Les Miserables (also on tour).

The wealthy, life-loving friends, family and lovers who populate an Italian villa between the World Wars include Jill Paice as Grazia Lamberti, the object of Death's desire, with Max von Essen, Matt Cavenaugh, Simon Jones, Linda Balgord, Rebecca Luker, Michael Siberry, Mara Davi and more.

The romantic musical is based on the Alberto Casella play of the same name. According to Roundabout, "In Death Takes a Holiday, it's just after the first World War and the loneliest of souls arrives at an Italian villa disguised as a handsome young Prince (played by Ovenden), and for the first time experiences the joys and heartbreaks of life. But when he unexpectedly falls in love with a newly engaged young woman (played by Jill Paice), the mysterious stranger discovers that love may in fact be stronger than death."

The project began as a collaboration between librettist Peter Stone (1776) and composer-lyricist Yeston, but following Stone's 2003 death, Tony Award winner Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) joined the project as librettist. Stone and Meehan share book credit on the show. Read the special Playbill.com feature about the creation of Death Takes a Holiday. Tony Award winner Doug Hughes (Doubt, Roundabout's Broadway production of Mrs. Warren's Profession starring Cherry Jones) directs.

Maury Yeston
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

In the days leading up to the first preview, Yeston told Playbill.com, "What a joy and a privilege to be about to preview a new musical in New York City, and to do so in front of the greatest, most useful and informative audience in the world — if we have the wisdom to listen to them! Revisiting and refining every element of the show will be our task, and I really look forward to it. And to have had the benefit of the collaborative work of both Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan is more than any composer could ever dream of."

The cast features Linda Balgord (Contessa Danielli), Matt Cavenaugh (Eric Fenton), Mara Davi (Alice), Joy Hermalyn (Cora), Jay Jaski (Lorenzo), Simon Jones (Dr. Dario Albione), Rebecca Luker (as matriarch Duchess Lamberti), Patricia Noonan (Sophia), Julian Ovenden (Prince Sirki / Death), Jill Paice (Grazia), Michael Siberry (as patriarch Duke Lamberti), Alexandra Socha (Daisy Fenton), Don Stephenson (as butler Fidele), Max Von Essen (Corrado Montelli).

The creative team includes Kevin Stites (musical direction and supervision), Peter Pucci (choreography), Derek McLane (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes), Kenneth Posner (lights), Jon Weston (sound) and Tom Watson (hair & wigs).

Death Takes a Holiday plays a limited engagement through Sept. 4.

Ovenden's theatre credits include Merrily We Roll Along, Grand Hotel (Donmar); Annie Get  Your Gun (Young Vic); Marguerite, A Woman of No Importance (Haymarket); King Lear (RSC); Butley on Broadway, plus TV's "Foyle's War," "The Forsyte Saga," "Any Human Heart," "Cashmere Mafia," "Related," "Charmed" and "A Christmas Carol." Read Playbill.com's The Leading Men column, which spotlights Julian Ovenden.

Paice starred in Broadway's The Woman in White, The 39 Steps and Curtains, and was Scarlett O'Hara in the London musical Gone With the Wind. She recently starred in the Virginia Stage world premiere of the new Bruce Hornsby musical SCKBSTD.

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Alexandra Socha and Max von Essen
photo by Joan Marcus

Casella's play, rewritten for the American stage by Walter Ferris, was originally produced on Broadway by the Shubert brothers during the Great Depression.

Yeston previously said the piece is "an intensely romantic love story — deeply moving and life affirming." He called the show a "chamber musical."

Death tells of the Grim Reaper visiting earth to discover why people are so fearful of him. Or, as Stone once said in a Playbill.com interview, "What can life be that they cling to it so?"

Death becomes a houseguest at a swanky nobleman's home where an engagement is being celebrated. And that's where he falls in love.

"It's very lush and romantic and amusing in many aspects, even though it deals with a somewhat serious subject," Stone previously told Playbill.com.

There have been movie versions of the property, including a 1934 picture starring Fredric March and "Meet Joe Black" (1998), starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins.

"Each time they remake it," Stone said of the film versions, "it's farther from the original. We're keeping the locale: Italy, just after the first World War. It's a small musical: 10 principals, all of them important, no chorus." There are four servants in the mix as well, Playbill.com previously reported, bumping the cast size to a relatively intimate 14.

Roundabout previously produced the 2003 Broadway revival of Nine by songwriter Yeston.

Todd Haimes, artistic director of Roundabout, said in a statement, "Maury Yeston and Peter Stone began working on Death Takes a Holiday several years before it came to Roundabout. Peter was one of the great librettists in musical theatre, and, after his death, it was fortunate that Tom Meehan, one of the best in the business, took over the book writing duties. It was in 2008 that Tom and Maury approached me about working on the show at Roundabout, and I suggested Doug Hughes for the project. We ended up doing a series of developmental readings with the team over the past two years, and I think we're all agreed that the show is now absolutely ready to get on its feet..."

Tickets ($76-$86) are on sale at Roundabout Ticket Services at (212)719-1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org or at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre box office (111 West 46 Street).

View highlights from the show:

 

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