Review: YOUR LIE IN APRIL – THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Penned by Frank Wildhorn, the European debut of the Japanese hit is an astounding success.

By: Apr. 09, 2024
Review: YOUR LIE IN APRIL – THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
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Review: YOUR LIE IN APRIL – THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT, Theatre Royal Drury Lane What a time to be a fan of manga and theatre. Japanophiles with an interest in musicals have been treated to two runs of the acclaimed Death Note the Musical in Concert and are now being regaled with the adaptation of a slightly lesser known manga, Your Lie in April.

Aptly coming to the stage in April, it’s scored by Frank Wildhorn with lyrics by Carly Robyn Green and Tracy Miller. The project, which has been mounted in Japan before with a book by Riko Sakaguchi, is finally premiering in Europe so that British audiences get to appreciate Kōsei Arima’s recovery from trauma.

The romantic drama originally written and illustrated by Naoshi Arakawa follows Kōsei in the aftermath of his mother’s death. A piano prodigy whose success was largely achieved due to incessant training, he finds he can’t play anymore after she passes. A chance meeting with violinist Kaori Miyazono alters the course of his life, putting him on the path of healing. It’s a sad one, fully worth the read and the watch. The musical is worthy of the original material and this first introduction, though deemed “only a staged concert”, is beautifully curated in every little detail.

Review: YOUR LIE IN APRIL – THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
From top left: Zheng Xi Yong, Joanna Ampil, Harrison Lui in Your Lie in April

The producing partners (the same as the smash-hit Death Note) have single-handedly elevated this brand of event to a whole different league. Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, it features impressive production value on all levels. The large cast breaks into meticulous routines (it’s a mystery how they managed to reach this degree of precision in a mere fortnight) while Wildhorn’s numbers flourish into a classical grandeur with a blend of beckoning modern twists. The architecture of his compositions is of foolproof beauty, with the motifs idiosyncratic to the characters coming back to tie them together again and again. The result is a traditional ambience moulded into approachable and down-to-earth phrasing.

The songs are knee-tapping show tunes with a life of their own. Even the most narrative-laden numbers that feature intricate lyricism never lose control of their poetic flair. They’re singable but deep, sophisticated but accessible. In short, it’s a dream of a score. The delicate coming-of-age story has been trimmed down for the benefit of the genre, focusing it on Kōsei’s guilt complex and the self-flagellation that comes with it. The writing team extrapolate the themes surrounding the pressure to succeed, examining the meaning of failure and personal loss.

Review: YOUR LIE IN APRIL – THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
The cast of Your Lie in April

Justin Williams designs a set that remains the same bar for a few pieces being rolled in occasionally. Distributed on layered structures that allow for dynamic visuals, the scene’s centrepiece is a large screen where gorgeous images move the action safely across different locations. The graphics pay homage to the anime, with dainty drawings heavily influenced by the original pictures. This monolith is balanced by a fully bloomed cherry tree - a bit on the nose, but it works.

The cast is superb. Zheng Xi Yong brings to the surface all the internal turmoil of a young adult struggling to make sense of the drastic changes that have happened in his life. Convinced he was the one who killed his mum (Joanna Ampil, who appears as a severe presence every time he sits at the piano) and riddled by remorse, he’s stuck in an avoidant state. Yong’s astounding musical proficiency earns him a mid-act standing ovation with his solo at the piano. He engages in a sweet push and pull with Rumi Sutton, who charms the audience with exquisite velveteen vocals as Kaori, the bold and blasé rebel dreamer who drags Kōsei out of his rut. Just like Kōsei’s two best friends support him, Rachel Clare Chan and Dean John-Wilson lift Yong but are as well-rounded in their performances.

Review: YOUR LIE IN APRIL – THE MUSICAL IN CONCERT, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Dean John-Wilson and Rachel Clare Chan in Your Lie in April

John-Wilson especially juggles the ever-changing tone of his character with an interesting sleight of hand. Watari’s typical machismo might be used as a comic scapegoat here, but suddenly recedes to reveal a teen as intense as Kōsei (an angle that’s sure to be expanded in the complete musical). But the real scene-stealer is Harrison Lui as Kōsei’s younger self. So tiny on that immense stage, he holds his own with a big personality.

If Your Lie in April follows the same patterns as Death Note, it won’t be the last time we hear of this iteration. It would be absolutely wonderful to see both of them completely realised as full production at last. The demand is there and the West End should take note.

Your Lie in April runs at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane until 9 April.

Photo credit: Mark Senior


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