Your Lie in April – The Musical in Concert

Every so often there will be a discussion in the interval amongst reviewers which is best summarised by a collective difficulty in finding the positives in the performance, at least based on the proceedings of the first half. (In most cases, for the record, opinion is divided.) This show had the opposite effect, and I am left with a pleasant dilemma – where to begin? Even in the struggles of Kōsei Arima (Zheng Xi Yong), a schoolboy who suffers a pianist’s equivalent of writer’s block, at least partly on account of the loss of his mother (Joanna Ampil, whose character is named only as ‘Kosei’s Mother’), there is a sense that he’s doing the best he can in trying circumstances.

Your Lie In April London. Photographer credit: Mark Senior.
Your Lie In April London. Photographer credit: Mark Senior.

The story is told in forward chronological order without flipping back and forth over the years – Kōsei does have flashbacks of his mother’s overbearing approach. She made the mistake of demanding perfection from a human being – that is, her son – such that even winning music competitions failed to satisfy. Most parents would congratulate their flesh and blood on getting first prize. She tossed Kōsei’s trophy on the floor, deeming it worthless and unearned, on a technicality of some kind. The savagery makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially when almost everyone else is pleasant, save for a snobby purist who, like the mother figure, believes all classical music should always be performed, note for note, exactly as the sheet music says it is, with no deviation or improvisation of any kind.

Given the nature of Kōsei’s school years, in which he enters various music competitions, and is then befriended by people who enter various other competitions, it’s a surprise that more classical music doesn’t form part of the proceedings. But it is a good surprise, in the sense that the lack of emphasis on rehearsals and performances – a big part of young musicians’ lives, taking up almost all of their spare time – means the story of Kōsei and his school friends just keeps rolling, with a largely upbeat score that reflects the youthful vibrancy of the main characters.

Kaori Miyazono (Rumi Sutton) is a breath of fresh air in Kōsei’s life, the rigidity of maintaining musical compositions as they were written being cast away by her breezier approach. But there is a forthrightness to her character, though she’s not as bolshy as the manga books from which the musical is adapted portray her (without giving too much away, she gets what she wants in the books regardless of the consequences). Ryota Watari (Dean John-Wilson) leads an ensemble of football players in a suitably energetic song and dance number – a friend of Tsubaki Sawabe (Rachel Clare Chan), Kōsei’s next-door neighbour, and of Kōsei himself, he’s stereotypically sporty and unacademic.

The programme, interestingly, reads in the style of a manga comic or book, with the front cover at the back, such that the page numbers are, to Western readers, the ‘wrong’ way round. The band, conducted by Chris Poon, sounded more like an orchestra to me, and for a concert, there was far more set and staging than one might have reasonably expected. Again, this is a good thing, working in the show’s favour, and everyone had sufficiently learned their parts as though this were a full production – not a single script was in hand. An impressive piano solo from Zheng Xi Yong’s Kōsei quite rightly had a mid-show standing ovation.

Occasional sound issues in the first half meant the odd line was missed, though there was nothing like the technical difficulties reported by patrons at some other staged concerts in the West End recently: this production team put the effort in, and it showed. The storyline is not entirely watertight – for instance, it wasn’t clear to me who Kōsei’s legal guardian was, given he was still at school when his mother died, and there is no mention of a father figure. But, minor quibbles aside, the show has a lot going for it. An enjoyable experience that emotionally connected strongly with the audience, it’s a show I’d happily sit through all over again. Even if I didn’t quite get what the ‘lie’ in the show’s title was from the concert’s narrative.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

This musical adaption of a manga favourite story, Your Lie in April, brings to life the poignant story of Kōsei Arima, a young piano prodigy, and his inability to play following his mother’s death. He strikes a friendship with violinist Kaori Miyazono and she slowly encourages him to perform again.

The Cast
Zheng Xi Yong (Spring Awakening) and Rumi Sutton (Hex) will lead the show as Kōsei Arima and Kaori Miyazono, while joining them will be Rachel Clare Chan (Death Note), Joanna Ampil (Miss Saigon) and Dean John-Wilson (Death Note).

The rest of the cast features Eu Jin Hwang, Julie Yammanee, Jade Albertsen, Lauren Chia, Hannah Yun Chamberlain, Imogen Rose Hart, Yuki Abe, Chris Fung, Ernest Stroud, JoJo Meridith, Michael Lin, Samuel How and Jason Wang-Westland.

Creative Team includes:
Book by Riko Sakaguchi
English Language Book by Rinne B. Groff
Music by Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics by Carly Robyn Green and Tracy Miller
Music Arrangement and Orchestration by Jason Howland
Director and Choreographer Nick Winston
Set Designer Justin Williams
Costume Designer Kimie Nakano
Musical Supervisor Katy Richardson
Musical Director Christopher Poon
Casting Director Harry Blumenau
Cultural Consultant Yojiro Ichikawa
Producers Carter Dixon McGill, Indie Theatrical, Pinnacle Productions, Scott Prisand
and Cuffe & Taylor in association with Rob Kolson & Liesl Wilke

Mon 8 April 2024 – Tue 9 April 2024
Booking at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

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