Death Note the Musical in Concert
Rating: ★★★★★
Venue: London Palladium, West End
Cast: Frances Mayli McCann, Joaquin Pedro Valdes, Adam Pascal, Dean John Wilson, Aimie Atkinson, Rachel Clare Chan and Christian Rey Marbella 

Death Note: The Musical, based on the bestselling Japanese manga series, will play two concerts at The London Palladium on 21 and 22 August 2023, marking its European debut. The show features music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Jack Murphy and a book by Ivan Menchell. It’s based on the manga series by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.

There was slight controversy over Death Note being billed as a "concert" last minute, but there's no need to fear - as this is like no concert I've ever seen. The set is rather extravagant; as are the costumes, lighting and choreography. I'd say it could quite easily pass as a (only very slightly!) stripped back production.

If you're unfamiliar with Death Note, the musical is based around the bestselling Japanese manga series, originally written by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. We follow the journey of high school student, Light, as a notebook seemingly drops at his feet; Death Note. Once Light holds the notebook, he's introduced to a Shinigami (a Death God) named Ryuk who tells him that the notebook has the power to kill anyone of his choosing. All he needs is a pen. Light goes on a criminal killing spree with his pen and notebook, and before long the power becomes all-consuming. Enter the elusive private detective "L" who's ready to uncover Light's secrets...

I wasn't quite sure where to even begin with this review as it's difficult to articulate thoughts when you are overwhelmingly in love with a show. While I went into the show with little knowledge of Death Note, audience members around me seemed incredibly happy that the show hadn't strayed too far from it's source material. And as a new fan? It drew me in almost immediately. From the opening number, the atmosphere is set and it's just as dramatic, dark and intense as you'd hope.

Before I speak about standout performances from the cast, it's worth noting how wonderful it was to see a stage of predominantly Asian actors, as it made the story feel more authentic (unlike a certain white-washed Netflix adaptation...).

The casting is exceptional. Joaquin Pedro Valdes (Light) reminds me very much of Jeremy Jordan, but dare I say, with more power. However, Joaquin shines brightest when paired with Dean John Wilson, who plays L. A particular memorable moment was "Playing His Game", whereby they play a tennis match whilst singing together. The tension builds, along with their voices and the atmosphere; it's a masterful piece of theatre. 

Frances Mayli McCann plays Misa as an innocent, naïve teenager, which she does so well. Her performance of "I'm Ready" (rap included!) left the atmosphere in the auditorium thrumming with anticipation of what was to come.

However, the star of the show for me was Adam Pascal as Ryuk. Ryuk plays the master of manipulation exceptionally. From the maniacal laughter, to the chilling walk, to the seductive way in which he talks to Light. He is the perfect apple-loving, scheming villain; with on point comedic timing.

I'd not heard the soundtrack before seeing the show, but I found myself humming along to a few songs on the train journey home. Having memorable numbers is so important for a musical's longevity, and Death Note has a few. My particular favourites were "They're Only Human", sung by Aimie Atkinson and Adam Pascal, "Hurricane", sung by Joaquin Pedro Valdes and "I'm Ready", sung by Frances Mayli McCann. 

While there are no moving sets, the single set that's on stage throughout the show is spectacular, and that's thanks to the brilliant Justin Williams. Props must also go to Kimie Nakano who produced some stunning costumes. I particularly liked the distinction between good and evil portrayed through the character's clothing choices. For example, Ryuk and Light wearing black throughout, and Rem and L wearing white.

The European premiere of Death Note had a few hiccups along the way and there were a few issues regarding microphones and sound. However, with it being the first show of the run, I believe that'll be an issue that's sorted fairly quickly.

It seems that whatever Frank Wildhorn and Ivan Menchell (Bonnie & Clyde) put out, it's an instant hit for me - and Death Note may just be the best yet! It's full of twists, turns and is one hell of a ride. It's completely unique, and it's truly wonderful to have something so original currently in the West End. A deliciously dark masterpiece that is worthy of a full scale production and a lengthy West End run. 

You can catch Death Note the Musical at the Lyric Theatre in September, here.

Photo credit to Mark Senior

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