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Theater review: 'Death Takes a Holiday' -- 3.5 stars

Death Takes a Holiday

Death Takes a Holiday Credit: Handout

Death Takes a Holiday

3.5 stars

"Death Takes a Holiday," a new musical fantasy based on the 1934 Fredric March film about a friendly visit from the Grim Reaper (which also inspired the 1998 Brad Pitt remake "Meet Joe Black"), was originally intended as a star vehicle for Antonio Banderas on Broadway.

Years later, it is premiering instead Off-Broadway with Julian Ovenden, an exciting and thoroughly dashing English performer, in the lead. And you can thank your lucky stars for the cast change.

The musical follows as Death, deciding that he could use a vacation after several millennia of nonstop work, takes on human form and crashes a wealthy family's Italian villa in the early 1920s for the weekend.

Death passes himself off as a Russian prince and confesses his true identity only to his host. He immediately falls head over heels for a young woman, learning the value of life and why people are so afraid of dying.

This is an unabashedly old-fashioned and romantic show. It could have easily come across as tiresome were it not so thoroughly well crafted. Maury Yeston's ("Nine") warm, sweeping songs capture the lead character's joy and confusion upon discovering human emotions.

Doug Hughes ("Doubt"), directing his first major musical, has put together an elegant, intimate production that emphasizes each and every character in the ensemble in great detail. This also marks the first musical to be performed in the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre, and the sound quality is incredible.

Ovenden proves to be a genuine matinee idol. He stops the show again and again with his gorgeous baritone singing and embraces the show's life-affirming spirit with the utmost sincerity.

The cast is rounded out by excellent musical theater veterans including Jill Paice, Matt Cavenaugh, Max von Essen, Rebecca Luker, Michael Siberry and Mara Davi.

If you go: "Death Takes a Holiday" runs at the Laura Pels Theatre through Sept. 4. 111 W. 46th St., 212-719-1300,

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