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Review - Your lie in April

Theatre Royal Drury Lane


Photo credit: Mar Senior

Review

Based on the popular manga and anime of the same name by Naoshi Arakawa, this musical tells the story of Kosei Arima (Zheng Xi Yong), a prodigy level pianist who lost the ability to hear the sound of piano after his mother’s death. Through encouragements of his friends Tsubaki (Rachel Clare Chan) and Watari (Dean John-Wilson), and love interest Kaori (Rumi Sutton), Kosei slow regains his confidence as he takes the stage once more.

 

It is an exceptionally challenging task to adapt the whole of Your lie in April into a staged musical that lasts about two hours, which worked to a certain extent. This trimmed down version retains only the fundamental core components, Kosei’s childhood trauma and his love story with Kaori. It captures how Kosei still agonises over his last words to his mother, which resurfaces whenever he touches a piano, and how the arrival of Kaori, who has a completely different outlook to music and music competitions, prompts him to re-examine his relationship with music.

 

However, like many long running stories and TV shows, Your lie in April manga and anime contains a number of parallel storylines that are centred around the other characters, namely Kaori and Kosei’s mother, some of which are explored in this musical in concert. These stories add depth and build emotional explanations to Kosei’s character. Without spoiling too much, two very key elements were effectively omitted, how the image of Kosei’s mother is something he conjured for himself due to his unwillingness to move on and how he saw a parallel in Kaori’s sickness to what his mother went through and witnessing Kaori’s deteriorating conditions forces Kosei to relive his painful past. Due to the limitation of a staged production, there simply isn’t enough context or time to allow the audience to build up that emotional attachment and grief that explode at key moments of the story.

 

Frank Wildhorn’s music and Carly Robyn Green and Tracy Miller’s lyrics serve as a portal that allow us to glimpse into Kosei’s inner struggles as the plot progresses. “Just like a movie” for example describes Kosei’s feeling when he witnessed Kaori’s performance for the first time. Interestingly, there are some levels of classical music incorporation into the contemporary score, a homage to a story about a classical pianist and violinist.

 

It is worth highlighting that Your lie in April manga and anime used two elements to depict characters’ emotional states, colour and classical music. Both of these in my opinion, could be incorporated into the show if a small number of musical numbers are cut. It was disappointing that neither of these were sufficiently featured in this musical production. Kosei’s world became monotonous when he lost the ability to hear the sound of piano and it regained colour with the arrival of Kaori, which dulled again when he found out about her sickness.

We find out in this show that Kosei first became attracted to Kaori because of her expressive playing style and complete disregard to the score when compared with the other contestants of a violin competition, which should be the most evident in her performance of Beethoven’s “violin sonata No.9. Kreutzer”, but without any comparisons, it was very difficult to visualise this. Although Wildhorn, Green and Miller’s score and lyrics captures Kaori’s outlook on life, it does not fully capture her uniqueness in the world of classical musicians. The potential of “Liebesleid” or Love’s Sorrow was also not fully capitalised. This is a piece that Kosei played when he learned to accept his past with his mother, but we are only given a snippet of this and again, were not privy to how his playing would change following this realisation. While I fully embrace the creative team’s decision to use a more contemporary score and lyrics to help the audience understand the plot, the classical element has to be better recognised and that the characters’ feelings and story can be propelled forward by playing style alone and almost without words for a show like Your lie in April.

 

Yong and Sutton played their parts admirably, capturing the essence of a troubled and traumatised young boy and an energetic and hopeful young girl. The two actors push each other to new heights, just as their respective characters do in the story. Similarly, Chan and John-Wilson provide vital support to Kosei and act as comic relieves for the otherwise heavy and traumatic plot. However, the need for the may ensemble members is questionable. Given that this is a musical in concert, with a few moving parts and a small band on stage, the space felt exceedingly cramped at times.

 

The creative team has to be applauded for their attempt to condense a long and exceptionally popular story for the stage. Unfortunately, difficult choices were made by to eliminate particular elements of the original story which sadly significantly dampened the main characters’ traumatic experiences, their growth as musicians and learning the importance of acceptance.


Creatives

Based on the Manga, Your lie in April , by Naoshi Arakawa

Book: Riko Sakaguchi

English Language book: Rinne B. Groff

Lyrics: Carly Robyn Green, Tracy Miller

Music: Frank Wildhorn

Music arrangement and orchestration: Jason Howland

Director and choreographer: Nick Winston

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