Make way! There’s a new show drawing crowds in town – and for a good reason!

Credit: Mark Senior

The London Palladium was swarming with very excited fans for the sold-out European premiere of Death Note The Musical. Performed in concert format – likely to test the waters for a fully staged production – the musical based on one of the most popular mangas ever written brings a refreshing and exciting perspective on the genre and storytelling to the West End.

Death Note follows Light (Joaquin Pedro Valdes), a high school student who finds a notebook with the power of bringing death to whoever’s name is written down in it; and the antagonism between him and L (Dean John-Wilson), an unconventional detective hired to find out the mysterious killer who’s been making justice with his own hands by killing people he deems as criminals. With a plot as interesting as that, it seems hard to miss the beat. But condensing a 12-volume manga series into two hours is still a challenge that, fortunately, they rose to, making the right choices in selecting the characters and moments to work with. 

And the show really doesn’t ease you into it. With an opening number that feels as powerful as the end of an Act, it’s easy to hear Frank Wildhorn’s Rock ‘n’ Roll references turned theatrical. The lyrics don’t strike very memorable, but the score truly sounds like an amalgamation of both genres, which supports the adaptation of the story to the stage very well and, combined with the hard-coloured lighting in red, blue, and green tones, highlights the tense and ominous moments that permeate most of it. As well as providing a fresh look at the musical theatre genre. 

It is a bit simplistic to call it a concert though. Justin Williams’ stage design could’ve looked plain at first but offered a variety of spaces to play with that gave this “concert” the feel of a full production. It also utilises square shapes and a grey colour scheme matching the costumes that, as a bigger picture, resemble the black and white pages of a manga. Whether or not that was a deliberate choice it’s for the creatives to say, but it’s still a nice visual concept to take away from it as an audience member.

Credit: Mark Senior

The unbelievable talent on stage, in full costumes and makeup, offers a show in itself. Do you know that estrangement you feel when actors walk on a stage and you need to get used to the fact that they don’t look or sound exactly like the characters you already know or have imagined? Well, it lasts no time at all with this cast. Their commitment to the piece means you don’t doubt they are these people for even a second. Of course, there’s a level of superficiality in the connection between some of the characters due to not having enough time to explore their relationships at times, but nothing that robs the story from exploring its most poignant topics of the difference between justice and law, who should be dealing it, and the fragility of mortality that we all must face, independent of how powerful you may seem. 

If Death Note looks this cool and manages to impress this much as a concert, I can only imagine what it can accomplish as a full production. You better keep an eye on this one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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