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Death Takes a Holiday


A musical in two acts; music and lyrics by Maury Yeston; book by Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan - adapted from the 1924 Italian play La Morte in Vacanza by Alberto Casella (adapted in English for Broadway in 1929 by Walter Ferris).

Laura Pels Theatre, off-Broadway 10 June - 4 September, 2011


Act I

Duke Vittorio Lamberti and his family are driving home to their hilltop villa outside of Venice in 1921 after the engagement party of their daughter, Grazia, to Corrado Montelli. A mysterious shadowy figure blocks the road and the car screeches to a halt. Grazia is thrown from the car but, miraculously, is unhurt. Even her clothes are unruffled. Somehow, she knows that the world has changed for her. Later that night, Death, inspired by Grazia's beauty, visits Grazia in her garden. He then goes to her father and explains that he has taken the body of a Russian prince, Nikolai Sirki, who has just committed suicide, in order to take human form for the weekend so that he may learn about human emotions and why death is so feared. He threatens dire consequences if the duke reveals his identity. Death, in the guise of Prince Nikolai, appears at the door of the villa, and Vittorio introduces him to his wife, Stephanie, her mother the Contessa Evangelina, and Evangelina's old flame, Dr. Albione. Unknown to the duke or Death, one of the servants, Fidele has overheard their discussion, and he is terrified that Death is staying in the house.

The next day, the prince is excited at the prospect of life, and the prospect of understanding what it means to be human. He strolls down to the lake, where he meets Grazia. They stare at each other intently and are about to kiss when Duke Vittorio appears. He is afraid for his daughter, knowing the prince is really Death, and uses her engagement to chide her for being alone with another man. Grazia breaks her engagement to Corrado. Later, the prince discovers Alice, the widow of Grazia's brother Roberto (killed in action during the war) in the music room. She is taken with him, and invites him to sing and dance with her. They are about to kiss when she looks into his eyes and is so frightened that she runs from the scene. That evening Roberto's best friend, Major Eric Fenton, arrives with his sister Daisy. The prince is introduced as an old friend of Roberto's, and Eric is immediately suspicious. When he looks into the prince's eyes he sees something hauntingly familiar. At dinner, Grazia tells the story of two long-ago lovers in a local grotto who leapt from a cliff hand in hand so that they could be together for all eternity. Afterwards, she takes the prince to that grotto, where they kiss passionately.

Act II

It is a Sunday afternoon, with an approaching storm. The duke's family has grown ill at ease with Prince Nikolai, who wanders around, looking for Grazia's room. Instead he enters Roberto's room, where his mother, Stephanie, holds mourning. It is a sacred place, she informs him. Later, in the garden, Daisy commiserates with Corrado, with whom she has secretly been in love. In the grape arbor, Vittorio pleads with Death not to take his remaining child, but his pleas fall on seemingly deaf ears. Later, Death meets with Grazia in the grotto again. She asks what they will do, now that they have spent an entire night together. He tells her that they must part and never see each other again, even though he finds the prospect unendurable.

Major Fenton has taken his private plane to Monte Carlo and returns with the news that the real Prince Nikolai is dead, and this one is an impostor. Alice and Daisy tell Grazia of this news, but she refuses to believe them. Meanwhile, the duke has learned that Death now plans to take Grazia with him when he leaves at midnight. He bursts into the prince's room and challenges him. Death replies that he loves Grazia and cannot imagine going on without her. The duke tells him that true love requires that he put Grazia's life and needs before his own. If he loves her, he will let her experience the joys and sorrows of life. Reluctantly, Death agrees, but just before the stroke of midnight Grazia appears before him, dressed in a white gown. After midnight, he takes her hand and she instantly dies. Together, hand in hand, they walk into the distant light.

Musical numbers

Act I

  1. In The Middle Of Your LIfe
  2. Nothing Has Happened
  3. How Will I Know
  4. Centuries
  5. Why Do All Men?
  6. Death Is In The House
  7. Alive!
  8. Life's A Joy
  9. Who Is This Man?
  10. Life's A Joy (Reprise)
  11. Shimmy Like They Do In Paree
  12. Roberto's Eyes
  13. Alone Here With You

Act II

  1. Something Happened
  2. Losing Roberto
  3. What Do You Do
  4. More And More
  5. Finally To Know
  6. I Thought That I Could Live
  7. December Time
  8. Pavane
  9. Finale: Grazia And Sirki