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Death Note The Musical in Concert at the London Palladium

Now, here is something really new and just that bit different: a Japanese musical, first seen in Tokyo in 2015 which has quickly gained ‘cult’ status, even though it is actually composed by American Frank Wildhorn with book and lyrics by Ivan Menchell and Jack Murphy respectively. The present ‘concert’ staging is its first in English. The story is adapted from the ‘manga’ of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata first published in 2003 and so far selling 30 million copies worldwide.

Death Note the Musical. Adam Pascal (Ryuk) and Joaquin Pedro Valdes (Light). Photo by Mark Senior.
Death Note the Musical. Adam Pascal (Ryuk) and Joaquin Pedro Valdes (Light). Photo by Mark Senior.

A ‘Manga’ is a Japanese Comic Book or graphic novel that often targets different audiences, not just children. Death Note was first issued as a weekly serial and tells the story of Light Yagami, a high school student who finds a notebook, that when used, can kill anyone whose name and face he knows. He decides to use it to eliminate criminals and create a new world order but he is opposed by a mysterious detective called “L”.

Frank Wildhorn’s music sounds anything but Japanese, though Jason Howland’s orchestration and vocal arrangements help with the use of appropriate percussion. It is at its best when in ‘ballad’ mode, some of which are most effective especially when sung with passion, as they are in this production. The lyrics are suitably ‘trite’ as in a comic book, with little subtlety but the great advantage here is that it does make the plot easier to follow! If, as I was, you are a Death Note ‘newbie’ I would suggest digesting the plot synopsis on Wikipedia! (Give yourself plenty of time!)

Joaquin Pedro Valdes is the hero Light, throwing everything into this stereotyped role. He has great presence and is quickly an audience favourite. Ryuk, the Shinigami (Death God) who drops the Death Note which Light picks up is magnificently portrayed by Adam Pascal in a flowing black cape (costumes design Kimie Nakano). He follows Light around with suitable menace!

‘L’ the ‘world’s greatest detective’ is forever sweet-eating Dean John Wilson, looking casual and suave in white and only being able to sit on a chair in one position. He is hired to capture Light (whose killing alias is Kira) and engages in a cat-and-mouse game with him which culminates in a cleverly staged tennis match.

Misa is one of Kira/Light’s supporters. She is played by Frances Mayli McCann and possesses a powerful voice which is ideal for putting over Wildhorn’s music.

Light’s innocent younger sister is beautifully sung by Rachel Clare Chan, and his father Soichiro, chief of police, is in the hands of Christian Rey Marbella, one of the few protagonists who is allowed to be at all three-dimensional and subtle in character, refusing to believe that his son could possibly be Kira. He also possesses perhaps the best voice on stage, but this may be because instead of ‘belting out’ numbers he is allowed to be much quieter and more subtle! The whole show seems to be the C21 Japanese version of Victorian Melodrama – if only Boucicault had lived in Asia!

I have intimated above that this ‘concert’ is in fact much more than that. It is in all but name a fully staged performance, using a simple black and grey set designed most effectively by Justin Williams, giving several different acting areas at various levels. The direction and choreography is by Nick Winston who seems to have worked miracles in a very short time, ensuring that the pace rarely flags. Lighting (Ben Cracknell) is suitably ‘comic book’ in style and my only caveat is the sound design: time and again actors’ radio mikes being faded in too late to catch the opening of musical numbers and dialogue – sometimes as late as 30 seconds. The 16-piece stage band, cleverly hidden behind the set but sounding ‘live’ is energetically conducted by Chris Ma.

The packed house at The Palladium clearly enjoyed seeing their heroes (and villains) on stage for the first time: I am sure that the vast majority could have produced Death Note comics, books and videos by the score and have views on the characters as if they were real people. In fact, the two Palladium performances sold out so quickly that more have been scheduled at the Lyric Theatre in early September. Highly recommended to those who are Death Note fans – but also offering much enjoyment for everyone else who likes to try something ‘new’ The whole evening was great fun and total fantasy – just go and lose yourself!!!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

Broadway legend Adam Pascal (Roger in the original cast of ‘RENT’), Aimie Atkinson (Katherine Howard in the original cast of ‘Six’, Vivian in ‘Pretty Woman’), Rachel Clare Chan (a recent graduate from the Royal Academy of Music) and Christian Ray Marbella (Engineer in ‘Miss Saigon, international tour) join the previously announced Frances Mayli McCann, Dean John-Wilson and Joaquin Pedro Valdes to star in Death Note: THE MUSICAL in Concert.

They are joined by an ensemble featuring Felipe Bejarano, Charlotte Coggin, Jade Copas, Eu Jin Hwang, Yojiro Ichikawa, Deena Kapadia, David Kar-Hing Lee, Nick Len, Jasmine Leung, Jojo Meredith, Marcel Li-Ping, Janine Somcio.

Following acclaimed productions in Japan and Korea Death Note THE MUSICAL will get its English language premiere with three star-studded concerts at the London Palladium on 21 & 22 August. It will then transfer to the Lyric Theatre for 6 performances, Thursday 7 September – Sunday 11 September.

Creative Team:
Director and Choreographer Nick Winston
Associate Director and Choreographer Alex Sarmiento,
Costume Designer Kimie Nakano
Musical Supervisor Katy Richardson
Musical Director Chris Ma
Orchestrator Jason Howland
Designer Justin Williams
Lighting Designer Ben Cracknell
Sound Designer Ben Harrison
Casting Harry Blumenau
Artwork by Rebecca Pitt Creative
Producers Carter Dixon McGill Productions, Indie Theatrical and HoriPro


Carter Dixon McGill Productions
and Indie Theatrical present

in Concert
Music by Frank Wildhorn,
Lyrics by Jack Murphy, book by Ivan Menchell
©️Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata/SHUEISHA, HoriPro

London Palladium
8 Argyll Street,
London W1F 7TF

Monday 21 & Tuesday 22 August at 7.30pm
Tuesday 22 August at 2.30pm

then transfers to
Lyric Theatre
Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 7ES

for 6 performances, from Thursday 7 September – Sunday 11 September 2023

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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