Writers have been personifying the concept of Death for many ages. Geoffrey Chaucer made him a wizened old man who points some riotous characters to three bushels laden with gold in the story told by The Pardoner in THE CANTERBURY TALES. The antithesis of this is the presentation of Death in Maury Yeston's beguiling new musical DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY which is now on stage at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre.
In this tuneful show, Death is presented as a good-looking and charming young man brilliantly played by Julian Ovenden. When encountering Grazia Lamberti on an Italian coastline, he becomes completely smitten with her. Why shouldn't he? Grazia is played by Jill Paice who imbues the character with such grace and charm that she could stop even the vilest of creatures in his tracks. Paice not only acts to perfection and sings with incredible clarity of tone that she proves herself to be one of the brightest lights in musical theater. In fact, when reviewing this show, Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard declared the actress to be "a treasure."
Having appeared on Broadway in THE WOMAN IN WHITE and CURTAINS, to say nothing of Broadway's 39 STEPS at the Helen Hayes Theatre and the West End's musical version of GONE WITH THE WIND, there are many who feel that her current production is the break-out everyone has been waiting for.
Speaking by phone while DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY was still in previews, Paice seemed incredibly calm, which is an indication that all is going smoothly for the show. "It's a little exhausting," she says with a sparkle in her voice," but I wouldn't have it any other way." When asked what changes had been made in the show since it started in previews,, Paice explains: "I'd say last week we made big shifts by including the character of Death right in the opening number. It's had a trickle effect on many other aspects of the show. We're still trying out new things to counterbalance that. The creative team is making little cuts here and there and trying new ideas. It's an exciting process to be a part of."
Paice has nothing but nIce Things to say about Ovenden, who is her leading man in the musical. "The whole show really rest on his shoulders. It's a hard character to play and make sympathetic. Julian has a wonderful opportunity to play Death as a human for the first time, so everything he's experiencing and feeling gives us the comedy, the drama and the romance in the piece. He does a wonderful job with it." Audiences seem to agree because they relish every moment the actor is on stage and are swept up in the on stage romance between him and Paice. At curtain calls the applause is deafening for the two of them.
DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY features a veritable roster of accomplished Broadway professionals that one might say it's an embarrassment of riches. Featured in the cast are Rebecca Luker, Matt Cavenaugh, Michael Siberry, Mara Davi, Max Von Essen and Don Stephenson. "Everyone seems to be lovingly featured in this show", comments the actress. "It feels to me like an ensemble piece with Julian at the head of our ship." Continuing, she says, "It's a wonderful opportunity and to get to sing Maury's music and this kind of music is a pleasure. If you look around Broadway right now you'll find that there isn't too much of that going around. It's great to be in New York doing a show. It's the best feeling in the world. I'm very honored to be up on that stage."
Talking about her younger years, Paice explains that she grew up mostly in Dayton, Ohio but hastily adds that she's an "Air Force Brat". Born in North Dakota, she's lived all over the world as a result of her father's profession.
Strangely enough, Jill Paice cannot pinpoint an exact moment when she knew she wanted to be a performer. "I'll say that I did shows all through my childhood and it was a great way to meet people. When you're dealing with bullies or feeling insecure because you're a new kid, theater was a great way to become incorporated into the community. There's a wonderful program in Daytoncalled ‘The Muse Machine'. It's run by Nat Horne and David Dusing. They were New York people who put on a show every year using kids from all the different schools. They bring the set in from the tour, along with lots of the costumes. It felt like a professional production but obviously we were still in high school. It was a big deal in the community. So I started doing that in high school and I really found myself enjoying it very much. Then--I believe it was David Dusing--who told me I really should do this. Maybe I was 15 or 16 at the time. I started to get really serious about acting and considered going to school for musical theater...and then it was just about convincing my parents to let me do that," she adds with a wonderfully girlish giggle.