Death Note has sold over 30 million copies worldwide, making it the best selling Manga comic series of all time. With such global appeal and a ready-made audience, it offers a tempting story choice to turn into a musical. With a score by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Jack Murphy and book by Ivan Menche, Death Note The Musical in concert has won many awards since premiering in Tokyo in 2015 and has since toured Japan and South Korea before coming to London.
Death Note tells the story of Japanese high school student Light who randomly stumbles across the death book belonging to the god Ryuk, who in his boredom has thrown it to earth to see what will happen. On working out that writing a person’s names in the death book leads to their death in 40 seconds, Light takes it upon himself to turn secret-vigilante (becoming “Kira”, a cult-figure and hero to many) and pledges to rid the world of all criminals, bringing justice for all.
Light’s father Police chief Soizchiro , unaware that his son is in-fact Kira, employees the mysterious detective L to help solve the unexplained murders and so begins the cat and mouse-game between Light and L.
Adam Pascal is unrecognisable as Ryuk and plays the part of bored god with a mischievous glint. He successfully stays the right side of generic panto villain, as Ryuk watches over Kira during his moralistic-killing spree, enjoying the entertainment as it unfolds, less with malevolence and more with glee. His rock voice adds a heft and gravity to the character which befits a god.
Equally well-cast are Joaquin Pedro Valdes as Light and Dean John Wilson as L. Valdes exudes the required youthfulness of the young adult and convinces in his sincerity that his mission is the right course of action. Wilson is suitably-quirky and eccentric as L, without being laboured and has wonderful warm tones to his voice, whilst also being able to rock it out when required. Both are well-matched vocally and blend well together. Their mission to destroy each other is believable, which comes to the fore during a well-choreographed tennis match (which acts a metaphor for the power play between them) and dramatic finale.
Frances Mayli McCann as Misa the pop star, who develops a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Kira, has the presence and vocal power to portray a credible star and can certainly belt out as demonstrated during We All Need A Hero, complete with her own backing dancers.
Musically, the style throughout is that of a rock musical, with some big, enjoyable toe-tapping numbers such as Hurricane and Where Is The Justice? However, there is also some relief from the bombast with characterful musical moments such as Ryuk’s own quirky waltz motifs They’re Only Human while other songs are infused with some traditional Japanese influences.
The strength of Death Note’s appeal comes not just from the music, songs or performances, but also in how it stays true to its Japanese heritage. Despite being translated into English, it maintains a style and feel that hasn’t been Westernised, offering audiences an authentic and unique experience.
Anyone with only a passing knowledge of the juggernaut that is Japanese Manga and who hasn’t experienced the various other film or TV adaptations, may wonder if this Death Note is too niche or comic book for them. However, Death Note is an exquisite contemporary noir-fairytale, that is dark and playful with a strong moral message at its heart. An entertaining evening and great introduction to the fascinating world of Manga.
Strikes all the right notes – ★★★★★ 5-stars