Based on the best-selling Japanese manga series by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note: The Musical has a score by Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, Dracula, Bonnie & Clyde) with lyrics by Jack Murphy and a book by Ivan Menchell. This celebrated new musical was first workshopped in New York in 2014 and a cast recording soon followed featuring Jeremy Jordan, Jarrod Spector, Eric Anderson, Adrienne Warren and Laura Osnes. The show then had its premiere production the year afterward in Tokyo, Japan where it opened to rave reviews. Since then the musical has had productions and tours in Korea, Russia and Brazil, winning Best Musical at the Korea Musical Awards. Now, marking the show’s European premier, London audiences finally have the chance to see Death Note: The Musical as it plays the London Palladium, in two star-studded concerts.
Death Note: The Musical centres on Light Yagami, a bright but dissatisfied high school student in Tokyo as he comes across a discarded notebook owned by Ryuk, a mythological god of death. Discovering he can kill anyone by just writing their names in the supernatural notebook, Light takes justice into his own hands by filling the notebook with names of the nation’s most wanted criminals. But a detective only known as “L” is soon tracking him down…
Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston (Bonnie & Clyde, Loserville, Chess, The Secret Garden), this English language production features Broadway’s Adam Pascal (Rent, Cabaret, Chess, Memphis, Something Rotten, Pretty Women: The Musical) as Ryuk, Aimie Atkinson (Six, Pretty Woman The Musical) as Rem, Rachel Clare Chan (Miss Saigon, Carousel, Colored Lights) as Sayu, Christian Ray Marbella (Miss Saigon, Jesus Christ Superstar, The King and I) as Soichiro, Frances Mayli McCann (Bonnie & Clyde, Chess, Heathers) as Misa, Dean John-Wilson (Aladdin, The King & I, Cruel Intentions) as ‘L’ and Joaquin Pedro Valdes (Disney’s The Lion King, Heathers, Miss Saigon) as Light.
As Light, Joaquin Pedro Valdes gives a very strong performance and his vocals throughout were powerful. Despite the massive size of the Palladium, Valdes manages to deliver an intimate performance of Light’s decent into obsession disguised as retribution and his performance of early Act One banger Hurricane was sensational. As Misa, Frances Mayli McCann is phenomenal. Delivering a power-house vocal, McCann wows the audience with her renditions of I’m Ready in Act One and Borrowed Time in Act Two proving she is a formidable force on any stage. Aimie Atkinson delivered a beautiful vocal as Rem and I was in tears during her Act Two ballad When Love Comes. Adam Pascal’s Ryuk was stunning. Pascal looked to be having so much fun as he cavorted round the stage in his long leather costume, delivering vicious one liners commenting on the action with a statuesque menacing glee. Dean John-Wilson as ‘L’ was incredible. Capturing the character completely, John-Wilson delivered a performance that was vocally rounded and extremely powerful. His renditions of The Game Begins and The Way Things Are were highlights and his characterisation of the troubled ‘L’ was so spot on that he had all the fans in the audience (of which there were many) in the palm of his hand. Easily one of the best performances of the year!
Frank Wildhorn has written many a well-loved musical so I went into Death Note expecting somewhat of a warm hug with relatively familiar music styles. The opening number Where is the Justice? had Wildhorn’s typical flare and I expected more of the same. However, I quickly was proven wrong with a score that had influences of rock, pop, musical theatre and Asian motifs and rifs. Wildhorn explains in the programme that during the writing of Death Note, his son was listening to lots of Linkin Park and Matchbox 20 and it shows. Songs and vocals soared throughout the evening as we were treated to banger after banger and I came away thinking how brilliant the score of Death Note truly is and that it might just be my favourite Wildhorn score of all.
Upon entering the Palladium, the audience is greeted by Justin Williams’s impressive full scale muti-faceted set design. Depicting various scenes from the show, this muti-level set comprises of Lights bedroom on one side, his father’s police office on the other and the famous Death Note chair centre stage. The walls of his set are clinical sheer white, adorned with white pipes and vintage TV’s. Contrasting the white are various sized frames which glow in different colours throughout, giving the set a comic book look and feel. A full sized video screen adorns the back wall with a constant image of the death note pages, which change colour throughout the production to depict scenes and characters. Costume design is fully realised through beautiful black and white pieces, with Shinigami’s Ryuk and Rem fully kitted out in mythical god-like glory. Nick Winston’s choreography is slick and effective to drive the story along, complete with dance breaks in Misa’s pop banger I’m Ready in Act One. Ben Cracknell’s lighting design was immersive with pulsating lighting that spilled into the audience to really create a rock concert vibe. A fully realised set, complete costume plot, all-out choreography with actors completely off book. Concert you say? Me thinks not!
Audiences that have managed to grab tickets to the Palladium run of Death Note: The Musical are in for an absolute treat. With a pulsating score, engrossing story and incredible performances, it’s easy to see why the Palladium shows sold out almost instantly. There are still seats available for the Lyric Theatre transfer in early September, so make sure to book- you won’t be disappointed.
Reviewed by Stuart James