Stuart King

Review: YOUR LIE IN APRIL: THE MUSICAL at Harold Pinter

The Japanese manga series Your Lie In April was originally developed and published over the course of 11 monthly magazine editions. It has since been used as the basis for an animé television series, a novel, a live action film (2016) and now a stage musical with music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Carly Robyn Green and Tracy Miller. Friday evening’s sodden West End opening at the Harold Pinter Theatre, drew an eclectic mix of reviewers and showbiz faces, from the flamboyant Boy George to the unassuming Don Black. So did the rain dampen spirits, or was the overnight election result sufficient to keep everyone buoyed-up?

You Lie in April at Harold Pinter Theatre. Photo Craig SugdenYou Lie in April at Harold Pinter Theatre. Photo Craig Sugden.

The story tells of a young piano prodigy named Kо̄sei Arima (Zheng Xi Yong) who, following his mother's death, loses the ability to hear himself play. Pestered and cajoled into playing again by a larger-than-life and free-spirited young violinist Kaori Miyazono (Mia Kobayashi), we learn that she is terminally ill and has secretly admired him from afar since the age of 5. The remaining cast of characters, are parents and school friends who move in the pair’s orbit.

The Love Story meets Shine premise is far from original and literally strewn with clichés and familiar tropes. The stern former-pianist mother (Lucy Park), rehearses her son for life without her by insisting he practise until perfect. A female school chum Tsubaki (Rachel Clare Chan) holds unrequited love for Kōsei which she only feels brave enough to reveal to him towards the later stages of the story, and a well-meaning jock Ryota (Dean John Wilson) who mistakenly believes Kaori has the hots for him, considers her, his girlfriend.

Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston on a compact set by Justin Williams which is largely composed of cherry blossoms and multitudinous stairs (presumably in order to accommodate the full cast in company numbers), has necessitated skilful use of back projections to maintain visual interest. Otherwise, downstage centre is occupied for much of the show by a grand piano, integral to the majority of scenes.

There are a number of occasions where our male lead Zheng Xi Yong plays piano pieces by Chopin, Debussy and others, displaying a profound understanding for the music and considerable technical skill. He is also more than capable of carrying a tune. Perhaps of even greater surprise, is the fact that this production marks the professional debut of Mia Kobayashi whose energy, vocal dexterity and timbre suggests a performer of considerably greater vocal experience. Their vocal gymnastics on songs like One Single Moment and Catch A Shooting Star showcased their talents whilst Dean John Wilson who has dazzled in other productions, is afforded few opportunities to shine, but grabs the comedic moments with gusto.