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Review - Your Lie in April

Harold Pinter Theatre

Playing until 21 September 2024

Photo credit: Craig Sugden

Review {AD-PR Gifted}

Following a two-night staged concert in April, Your Lie in April returns to the West End stage with a full production this summer. The show has received few changes between the two runs, which now showcases slicker choreography and transition, and more streamlined storytelling. 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 prodigious pianist who lost the ability to hear the sound of piano after his mother’s death and how he overcomes his past trauma and regains the confidence to step onto the stage once more.


Unlike the other recent stage adaptations of Japanese work, this stage production is not, nor should it be, a replica of the source material. This provides the creative team with the flexibility to introduce the necessary innovations to make it work on stage. Although the story primarily revolves around two characters, Kosei Arima and Kaori Miyazono (Miya Kobayashi), there are a myriad of side characters in the source material that inevitably play a much smaller role or removed altogether in this production. This is completely necessary as it would be impossible to explore each of these characters in a two-act musical.


Tsubaki and Watari’s roles are reprised by Rachel Clare Chan and Dean John Wilson, respectively. The two provide largely comedic supporting roles and act as catalysts to quicken Kosei and Kaori’s interactions. Understandably, some key elements have been cut in Riko Sakaguchi and Rinne B. Groff’s book, but what is perplexing to me is the plot points that have been retained. Kosei’s traumatic past and phantom of his mother are what prevent him from hearing the sound of the piano, acting as an insurmountable wall to his progression as a musician.  While this musical gives a glimpse of Kosei’s mother’s motivations and why she acted the way she did, this remains superficial and a suboptimal conclusion was delivered. Instead of spending more time into Kosei’s mother’s story and how Kaori brings colour and passion into Kosei’s life, decisions were made to retain Tsubaki’s gradual realisation of her affection towards Kosei, and Emi (Erika Posadas) and Takeshi’s (Ernest Stroud) rivalry with our protagonist, neither of which in my opinion are essential to the progression of the overall plot here.


In this staged production, Frank Wildhorn’s music and Carly Robyn Green and Tracy Miller’s lyrics beautifully capture the blossoming romance between the two leads. From “Just like a movie” through to “Catch a Shooting Star” and ultimately peaking in “One Hundred Thousand Million Stars”, Yong and Kobayashi deliver these musical numbers with boundless emotions that showcase the deepening of their relationship and their hopefulness. All of these are elevated by Justin Williams's beautiful set, which is a romantic visual spectacle all on its own.  

Although words and lyrics are indeed powerful tools in theatre, we must not overlook the fact that in addition to the love story, this is also a story of Kosei’s evolution as a musician. Thus, it is important to strike a balance between the contemporary and classical music in this show. While this has somewhat improved from the concert, I believe that this remains an ambition that has not been achieved. For example, Yong delivered a very accented version of Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow), pounding the keys to showcase his anger and how he associates this piece with the negativity he felt towards his mother. However, as he realises that the phantom of his mother is of his own creation and he actually holds fond memories of her too, a much smoother style could have been delivered in place of a sung musical number.


This stage production teases the audience with Frédéric Chopin’s “Ballade No.1 in G Minor, Op. 23”. An appropriate piece given that Chopin is one of the most prominent composers of the romantic period and a Ballade really is a culmination of an expressive narration, which one can interpret as a piece that has the potential to act as the ultimate conclusion to Kosei’s journey since meeting Kaori. This, in combination with an evolved Love’s Sorrow, seem too crucial to be left out, diminishing Kosei’s growth as a musician. Instead, “Ballade No.1” is interrupted and replaced with a transition into “I can hear you”, the final song of the show. I am in no way suggesting that the final musical number should be replaced by “Ballade No.1”, but I feel that they serve different purposes and could be used sequentially. All of which could have been better incorporated with further reduction of subplots that serve little purpose for this stage production.


The creative team must be congratulated for their willingness to embrace and adapt the source material into something different and workable on stage. Difficult choices have been made to streamline the story, but ultimately some of the eliminated materials and dampening of the classical element unfortunately created an imbalance and stunted the narrative around Kosei’s growth as a pianist.


Based on the Manga Your Lie in April by Naoshi Arakawa

Book: Riko Sakaguchi

English Language book: Rinne B. Groff

Music: Frank Mildhorn

Lyrics: Carly Robyn Green and Tracy Miller

Director and Choreographer: Nick Winston

Co-Director: Jordan Murphy

Musical Director and Conductor: Chris Poon

Lighting Design: Rory Beaton

Set Design: Justin Williams

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