Death Note, The Musical in Concert
Lyric Theatre, London, until September 10
Based on Japanese manga series by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
Cast: Aimie Atkinson, Rachel Clare Chan, Jessica Lee, George Maguire, Christian Ray Marbella, Dean John-Wilson, Joaquin Pedro Valdes
Ensemble: Boaz Chad, Charlotte Coggin, Jade Copas, Eu Jin Hwang, Yojiro Ichikawa, Deena Kapadia, Patrick Munday
Director and Choreographer Nick Winston
Producers Carter Dixon McGill Productions, Indie Theatrical, HoriPro Inc., Pinnacle Productions
in association with Greg A. DeLuca, Sharon Azrieli and Wild Yak Productions
Running time: two hours, 15 minutes, including interval.
The Japanese manga Death Note has sold more than 30 million copies, making it one of the best-selling mangas yet.
Whether the musical version can be as successful in our straitened times remains to be seen. Judging by the London run, it’s conceivable.
After selling out three shows at the London Palladium in hours, the show made an unprecedented immediate transfer to another West End Theatre, the Lyric.
For West End producers used to ageing audiences, an additional source of excitement is that it has filled theatre seats with the next generation as young manga fans have outnumbered the more traditional theatregoers accidentally drawn into a whole new world of Shinigami, or death gods, and their mysterious set of rules.
The Shinigami code is opposed to human ideas of law and justice, which are established as flawed from the outset by the protagonist Joaquin Pedro Valdes as Light, a brilliant student and son of police chief Soichiro (Christian Rey Marbella).
Initially, as fresh-faced and innocent as his name, Light meets the world of darkness by stumbling on Death Note, a black notebook previously owned by the flamboyant Shinigami Ryuk (George Maguire). He has dropped it out of boredom, the defining condition of a being trapped in eternity, scribbling down names of people, who, even before the ink is dry, are doomed to die.
The drama is Japanese in its polarities and concerns with the ethics of duty and all the pressure that entails. It is also international as the layers of simple right and wrong are piled up and complicated by shades of grey, as reflected in the show’s black, white and grey colour scheme.
As Light’s killing spree gets out of hand, he meets his intellectual match in the nameless super-detective L (Dean John Wilson) and his emotional match in actress-model-singer Misa (Jessica Lee). She in turn, has the backing of Rem, played by Aimie Atkinson, as a softer, kinder, feminine Shinigami.
Composer Frank Wildhorn, known for major Broadway hits, in the programme note tells us he was a relative stranger to manga until his producers in Japan asked him to have a look at Death Note. He consulted his eldest son, who told him: “You should drop everything and do this because it will make you cool.”
The show’s “coolness” derives from its classical build-up of tension and as Light’s claim to be “a model teenager” becomes hilariously untrue. Wildhorn’s music brazenly cranks up the volume but not so much the emotions, and perhaps it’s the show’s cynicism that marks it out for times.
Humans, as seen through Shinigami eyes are just fools, falling in love and crawling around, confusing fate with mere chance. There is no happy ending, just a happy interlude as Light and L, no longer mortal enemies, hug at the curtain call.
Barbara Lewis © 2023.