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FringeReview UK 2024

Your Lie In April

Cater Dixon McGill Ltd, Indie Theatrical, Pinnacle Productions et al

Venue: Harold Pinter Theatre


Low Down

An authentic Southeast Asian cast though raise this musical of Naoshi Arakawa’s 2014 hit manga comic series to exaltation in this hearts-out teen musical on high-school classic music prodigies. Your Lie In April comes to the Harold Pinter till September 21st.

This is surely a breakthrough musical on perennial themes. The discovery is not-yet-graduated Mia Kobayashi who proves overnight stars are still being made.


Music by Frank Wildhorn, Lyrics by Carly Robyn Green and Tracy Miller, English Book by Rinne B Groff after Riko Sakaguchi, Musical Arrangements and Orchestration by Jason Howland, Director and Choreographer Nick Winston, Co-Director Jordan Murphy,

Musical Supervisor Katy Richardson, Musical Director and Conductor Chris Poon, Set Designer Justin Williams, Costume Designer Kimie Nakano, Sound Designer Rob Bettle for Sound Quiet Time and Adam Fisher, Lighting Designer Rory Beaton, Video Designer Dan Light,

Casting Director Harry Blumenau CDG CDA, Production Manager Toby B Darvill, Orchestral management Rich Morris for Music Solutions Ltd, General Managers Cater Dixon McGill Ltd

Associate Director and Choreographer Tommy Franzen, Associate Musical Supervisor and Associate Musical Director Chris Ma, Dramaturg and Cultural consultant Yojiro Ichikawa, Associate Lighting Designer Tom. Turner,  Associate Video Designer Lucy Rodgers, Associate Set Designer Christophe Eynde, Assistant Musical Director Cerys McKenna, Assistant Lighting Designer Grace Levy

Till September 21st


So half of Japan’s endangered cherry-blossom trees swarm the set, to make the point we’re in Japan. To say nothing of Justin Williams’ delicate, brash but endearing set. An authentic Southeast Asian cast though raise this musical of Naoshi Arakawa’s 2014 hit manga comic series to exaltation in this hearts-out teen musical on high-school classic music prodigies. Your Lie In April comes to the Harold Pinter till September 21st.

It’s a fresh re-invention too, after the film and Japanese premiere. Punctuated with classical music performances that occasionally upstage the pop-anthem music by Frank Wildhorn, which is surely attractive enough. For this version there’s lyrics by Carly Robyn Green and Tracy Miller, English book by Rinne B Groff after Riko Sakaguchi’s original (premiered 2022), with musical arrangements and orchestration by Jason Howland, and presided over by director and choreographer Nick Winston.

Teenage love is given absolute sway, uninhibited in feeling though not at all raunchy, extremes of exaltation and despair are palpable and energy never dips. The story of how one classical player inspires another to emerge from having given up is shrouded in a surprise (clue’s in the title) about who knows what. But there’s far more to it than encouragement, even love; and inspiration we find is two-way.

Former piano prodigy Kо̄sei Arima (Zheng Xi Yong ) can no longer hear his own playing after the death of his taskmaster mother (Lucy Park) – a former prizewinning pianist who – like the judges here -was obsessed with technical perfection over expression. That’s a slightly different slant from what we’re used to in the very conservatoire Xi Yong studied in (Royal Academy of Music). He’s regarded

Cue highly-talented, but free-expression violinist Kaori Miyazono (Mia Kobayashi ) who apparates through mutual high school friends: sporty Ryota Watari (Dean John-Wilson) who hits on Kaori who idolises him as a sport god; and Tsubaki Sawabe (Rachel Clare Chan) with a secret crush on Kо̄sei.

Tsubaki’s critical but ferociously loyal – accusing Kо̄sei of being “emo and dark” for instance. And Watari, despite his U.S.-style brash pick-ups turns out far more attuned and truthful than his muscle-hustle suggests: John-Wilson’s a fine comic actor too and gets (well he is a wannabe superhero) a lion’s share of laughs, sometimes with hang-dog haplessness. “Well, you’re intense” quips Watari meeting Kaori for the first time.

In delivering a musically impossible judgement Kaori carries the best line: “It’s good you can’t hear what you can play because you can listen with your heart.”

Kaori badgers Kо̄sei back to the keyboard, initially as her accompanist. She’s an artist who wants to reach an audience and “live in their hearts forever” and indeed secures an Audience prize.  Those ferocious judges have a field-day of Beckmesser-like scratchings-out as the pair play Saint-Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (we’ve already had snatches of the scampering finale of Beethoven’s Moonlight Piano Sonata and the opening of his Kreutzer Violin Sonata, played by Xi Yong).

All this time violinist Akiko Ishikawa provides Kaori’s film-noir vivid performances, standing next to Kobayashi. Xi Yong too plays with an added Liberace-like aura – and that’s a compliment: it’s absolutely needed to allow classical moments to meld with the musical.

Indeed Xi Yong’s superbly technicolour rendering of Rachmaninov’s G minor Prelude entire gets the most rapturous reception and almost upends the musical. But the narrative where he finally confronts his painful last confrontation with his dying mother is a miraculous piece of stagecraft. He’s there alongside his mother and childhood self to break through his mother’s favourite Kreisler’s Liebesleid (which he’s performing with Kaori) but has to perform in a Lisztian arrangement by himself.

Naturally what young people at 18 never should have to confront also looms. But there’s secrets to the end, and nothing stops the warmth of this musical or numbers. Sometimes the reprise makes the musical. For instance a slide of the early ‘Perfect’ morphs from obsession into benediction. 24 of them throng for recognition, but perhaps the most exalted of all is the 19th, a duet: ‘One Hundred Thousand Million Stars’ opens out as a torch song blazing with affirmation and love.

Memorable at the time, there’s no great stand-out number that earworms into you, though one or two linger. But they’re as fine as in any new musical I’ve seen recently; and book, lyrics and ensemble are outstanding.

Rory Beaton’s lighting is superbly hand-in-glove with both Williams’s set beyond the blossom with its dual steps and Japanese-style windows and Dan Light’s shift of video-design flickering autumn and summer leaves, city landscapes and the like, sometimes skimming across in a bewitching manner: slick but attractive. Chris Poon’s crack ensemble above provide several moments of glittering pizzazz. Rob Bettle’s sound too isn’t intrusive but gets the balance right.

The rest of the cast deserve mention too, and the Kimie Nakano’s costumes individuating performers in gorgeous colours as well as dingy high-school (loos like 1960s, but that’s Japan’s high-schools). Chris Fung, Eu Jin Hang, Mairi Ikegami, Gracie Lai, Imogen law Hing Choy, Jojo Meredith, Daniel Nardone, Erika Posadsd, Ernest Stroud, Ria Tanaka, Kevin Tristan, and alternating as Kо̄sei’s younger self: Timothy Jian Soon, Eion NcLoughney, Theo Oh.

This is surely a breakthrough musical on perennial themes, both original and memorable. One of two melodies almost vie with the classical music which might win out in the moment but not in impact.

In an outstanding ensemble it’s quite clear we have two superb soloists in Chan and John-Wilson, a stunning quadruple threat in Xi Yong who led the cast to rapturous applause, particularly after his nuanced performance and virtuosos pianism.

The discovery though is not-yet-graduated Kobayashi who with a soaring high soprano, hitting all the preppy notes but never sounding callow or shrill, proves overnight stars are still being made.