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Your Lie in April (Susan Elkin reviews)

Your Lie in April

Based on Manga by Naoshi Arakawa

Music by Frank Wildhorn

Directed by Nick Winston

Harold Pinter Theatre

Star rating: 5

When I saw this show in a semi-staged concert version at Theatre Royal Drury Lane earlier this year, I predicted that – with work – it had a promising future. I was right. It’s now full of warmth, cohesiveness and stunning talent. Moreover it’s even tuneful. It’s rare for a new musical to be memorably melodious but I sang “One Hundred Thousand Million Stars” all the way home.

Your Lie in April began life as a serial in a Japanese magazine which evolved into a TV series before debuting as a stage show, with music in 2017. Then Covid-19 interrupted further development. The musical theatre version with Frank Wildhorn’s music premiered in Tokyo in 2022 and now here it is in London, with book in English by Rinne B Groff – the first West End show featuring a cast, all of whom have South Asian heritage.

The plot is terrific and very moving. We’re in a high school. Former piano prodigy Kosei (Zheng Xi Yong)  now refuses to play at all because he is traumatised and haunted by the bitter-sweet memory of his perfectionist, dying mother. Then Kaori (Mia Kobayashi), a promising, but frail, violinist arrives at the school because she wants Kosei to accompany her. Cue for much angst, yearning and many refusals although we all know, even as Kaori gets sicker, where this will end. The young woman sitting next to me (not my plus one) cried though most of the second half.

Zheng Xi Yong trained at Royal Academy of Music and has a piano diploma (although goodness why he doesn’t mention the latter in his programme biog). He therefore plays the piano throughout this show and it’s riveting show-stopping stuff especially when he gets to the Rachmaninov prelude. He’s also a fine actor, pretty decent singer and not bad as a dancer. You could call it the quadruple threat.  I’ve no idea whether he wears glasses in real life but he has a wonderful way with them as an expression of emotion.

Kobayashi, who graduates from Arts Ed this summer and is in her first professional job, is extraordinarily good. She has a terrific full belt, a lovely wistful mode and lights the stage every moment she’s on it. I predict a very successful future. She is not a violinist but that’s another coup de theatre. Akiko Ishikawa emerges from the upstage shadows with her violin and plays magnificently standing behind Kobayashi who mimes with a bow (getting all the up and down bows correct – they must have practised this very carefully). The grand piano is centre stage on a revolve and at one point it moves round as Zheng Xi Yong and Ishikawa play together behind Kobayshi. How on earth the two who are actually playing do this without music and without looking at each other is another marvel.

There’s a sparky ensemble, working in a challengingly small space (that piano takes up a lot of room). I loved the girls’ pastel dresses and the choreography with violin bows. Rachel Clare Chan and Dean John-Wilson excel as Kosei’s friends, supporting and urging him. Like everyone else in this cast, they work well together.

Above the stage, behind the gauzy semi-projected back screen, is a nine piece band doing a grand job under the baton of musical director, Chris Poon. There’s some eloquent cello work from Hsiao Ling Huang and, obviously, Akiko Ishikawa is part of the band when she’s not on stage.

In short everything delights in this touching, accomplished, happy show. Even the cherry blossom within Justin Williams’s set and around the proscenium adds to the charm.


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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