What if you could kill somebody simply by writing their name in a notebook? Based on Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's best-selling manga series, Death Note The Musical tells the story of a Tokyo high school student who takes justice into his own hands. But with mysterious detective L determined to expose his true identity, Light becomes locked into the most deadly game of cat-and-mouse.
Frank Wildhorn's slow-burning score, combined with Jack Murphy's lyrics and book from Ivan Menchell (who collaborated with Wildhorn for Bonnie & Clyde), brings this enigmatic thriller to life on stage. Following successful productions in Japan and South Korea, these concerts mark both its European and English-language stage debut and fans of Wildhorn's previous work will likely be satisfied by Death Note's soaring, yet functional, score.
Be in no doubt; this is the launchpad Joaquin Pedro Valdes so richly deserves. While totally believable as vigilante mass murdering student Light Yagami, his extraordinary vocal range dominates much of the first act. Having appeared in a number of off-West End shows, Valdes truly seizes his leading man moment. But Dean John-Wilson is marmite as maverick detective L, captivating and frustrating with his performance in equal measure while impressing vocally.
Frances Mayli McCann delights as pop star Misa. Her vivacious performance of ‘I'm Ready' - complete with backing singers and full choreography - totally fills the vast space of the London Palladium. But if only we could have had more Aimie Atkinson. Playing Rem, a shinigami (god of death), her fleeting moments on stage prove utterly spellbinding. By contrast, although providing moments of levity, Adam Pascal's feathered shinigami Ryuk cuts an awkward figure throughout, stalking Light with seemingly little purpose other than to crack the odd joke at the expense of humanity.
Don't be fooled by Death Note's insistence that this is an ‘in concert' performance. Justin Williams's set, coupled with Ben Cracknell's urgent lighting design, gives it higher production values than several fully-staged shows. Fully costumed and choreographed, there is nothing pared-back about this piece. However, Death Note's opening night was plagued by sound issues and for large parts, vocals could not be heard clearly over the band, while dialogue was badly affected by repeated examples of microphones cutting out.
While Wildhorn's score generally does the job, Menchell's book needs tightening up. Perhaps it can be forgiven during a supposed ‘concert' performance but there is a huge amount of assumed audience knowledge and while the uninitiated might embrace the manga madness of act one, the second act soon feels increasingly bloated and muddled. It is not the simplest of plots, of course, but there are too many unlikely leaps to truly bring the audience along with the story.
The audience reaction, before, during and after the show, was loud and fervid. There is plenty of room for improvement but there is clearly a huge demand to see this story told on stage. Despite its imperfections, Wildhorn's fan-pleasing score and a hugely talented cast will certainly ensure Death Note evades the shinigamis to extend its life beyond the current run.
Death Note The Musical In Concert concludes its sold-out run at the London Palladium on 22 August before playing at the Lyric Theatre from 7-11 September. Tickets from £25: here.
Review: Tom Ambrose Photos: Mark Senior