Death Note the Musical in Concert - London Palladium
The manga phenomenon makes its European premiere
Once again, London audiences find themselves treated to a concert version of a deeply anticipated musical, though the design, costume and choreography assert that this is far more than a concert. Posing quizzical ethical questions Death Note has roared its way across continents to arrive at the Palladium and hardcore fans have a lot to be excited for.
Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s manga after a few iterations has received the musical treatment from Bonnie and Clyde composer Frank Wildhorn and boy does that score shine. With outlandishly strong performances and staging far beyond the advertised concert expectations, this is a hit in the making but with woeful sound design and paper-thin dialogue, this piece is still very much a work in progress.
Death Note sees Light (Joaquin Pedro Valdes) unhappy at how justice is being served in Japan. Criminals walk free because of minute technicalities, the law powerless in his eyes, so when a bored Shinigami, a sort of god demon thing, named Ryuk (Adam Pascal) drops his death notebook down to humans below, Light finds a way to make things change. When a person’s name is written in the notebook they die. His vigilante justice moves rapidly, disposing of criminals at will until he himself becomes a target for law enforcement and acts of self-preservation become inevitable.
In the lead role Valdes is impressive, his vocal talent on full display but he is hampered by the token dialogue that rushes through the plot without care for character development. He and the rest of the cast scour the score for narrative beats and growth and often come up short. The lurching book, unable to successfully pin down the characters - though this is a concert version after all. Musical theatre legend Adam Pascal steals all the scenes he appears in. He prowls, forever following Light, menacing but soaked in wicked, dry humour. His and Aime Atkinson’s costumes from designer Kimie Nakano are wonderful. Pascal in black and Atkinson in white, garbed in feathers, the pair are fantastic, notably during their number ‘They’re Only Human.’
Frances Mayli McCann shines as Misa, a pop star who celebrates the deaths occurring. She idolises the work of Kira (the name given to Light by the public), writing and performing songs in his honour. McCann suffers too from the lack of dialogue but her singing is so clean and precise, that it receives the largest applause of the night - no stranger to singing Frank Wildhorn’s melodies. Her act two number ‘Borrowed Time’ is musical theatre perfection - despite her being blindfolded and strapped to a hand trolley. Another outstanding performance arrives with Dean John Wilson as the mysterious and controversial detective ‘L’ who sits perched on a throne like a deranged Batman villain, intently focused on catching Kira and using sacrificial methodologies to do so. His hunched physicality adds another dimension to the character and he simply captivating to watch. During ‘The Way Things Are’ he sings with an immense but controlled power whilst Ben Cracknell’s lighting design fires green beams into the auditorium like strings on a detective’s pin board - the lighting design is seriously impressive considering the time and technical limitations, Cracknell able to have colour emanating from the pale set.
The lack of technical rehearsal time is sadly obvious in the sound design. The mixing is poor, meaning that those like myself who were not familiar with the material beforehand missed out on a good chunk of Jack Murphy’s lyrics, the excellent band more often than not overpowering the vocals and on a miserable number of occasions actor’s microphones were not turned on in time for their lines - fundamental mistakes that repeatedly drag an audience out of the experience. I would hope that these issues are fixed promptly.
If producers were using this concert series to test the waters for a potential Death Note production then I doubt they could have wished for much more. The speed at which tickets sold and the electric atmosphere in the Palladium are proof that there is a market for this intensely dark and gripping musical. A rich and gifted cast working in tandem with a sizzling score ensure that this is a night to remember, but I sincerely hope the best is yet to come. Die-hard fans will not be left disappointed.
The Palladium run is sold out the concert is also running 7-10th September at the Lyric Theatre - Tickets
Photography - Mark Senior