Tag Archives: Dean John Wilson

“Death Note: The Musical” in Concert

There a strong fan base for this project based on Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s manga series. Three shows at the London Palladium sold out quickly – a transfer has been announced – leading to a sense of excitement for the European première of something that promises to be different.

Coming in cold… it’s a mixed bag. The story is good – it’s sold 30 million copies – and the book for the show, from Ivan Menchell, is accomplished. There are strong characters who are admittedly vehicles to raise issues but nonetheless intriguing. A schoolboy called Light, accompanied by a Shinto Kami, can kill people by writing their names in a book. It’s a neat way to raise moral dilemmas. And there’s a detective, the enigmatic ‘L’, tracking down Light for his vigilantism. But the show isn’t as bold as it might be: strong performances and a good atmosphere are its best points.

Concert is a stingy description. The set doesn’t move and there isn’t much choreography, but the lighting design (Ben Cracknell) is advanced, the costumes (Kimie Nakano) good and the characters well developed. Director Nick Winston has focused on his performers and, as a result, the roles are impressively realised by a strong cast.

Joaquin Pedro Valdes sounds great in the lead and shows Light’s arrogance – this hero starts with good intentions, but power goes to his head. Dean John Wilson plays the detective whose motivation seems more intellectual stimulation than justice and is, as usual, excellent. In the middle, often literally, is Ryuk, a supernatural figure who fascinates. This is a great role (performed brilliantly at the Palladium by Adam Pascal) – a real crowd pleaser with an element of danger and humour whose big problem is his sense of boredom!

Frances Mayli McCann and Aimie Atkinson

There is less success with two female roles: a pop star called Misa (who falls in love with Light) and another Kami parallel the main story but they do not complement it. Both Frances Mayli McCann and Aimie Atkinson have strong voices, but their songs aren’t as good and their characters are less well written. The scene of Misa’s interrogation is ridiculous – let’s hope that was the intention.

Jack Murphy’s lyrics deserve praise if only for their efficiency – it’s all very clear. And, as for the songs, Frank Wildhorn can write a tune. If sometimes unimaginative, they are often catchy. There is an effortful mix of styles in Death Note so the show overall shouldn’t tire.

A lot of the music is earnest, which works well with the story. But the score sounds American through and through. Maybe that’s better than some kind of appropriation. But it lessens the show’s USP compared to your average musical… and that seems a shame.

Transferring to the Lyric Theatre for six performances, 7-11 September 2023

Photos by Mark Senior


“The Distance You Have Come” at the Cockpit Theatre

There are six big reasons to see this show, namely, every member of the cast. It’s a song cycle, from composer Scott Alan, with numbers vaguely related to relationships: their beginning and endings, and the fears, ambitions and dreams they provoke, including parenthood. And it’s important to remember the nature of the piece – as a showcase for Alan’s work – which is performed with upmost professionalism by an impressive collection of West End regulars.

Alan also directs and makes an effort to interweave the numbers, which works better musically than theatrically. There are recurring characters, but this is sometimes confusing and, in one instance (a number called Quicksand), downright jarring. But there’s no pretence at an over-arching story – the music is the focus and it’s strong. It’s no surprise Alan is so successful or boasts so many collaborators. His compositions have instant appeal and his carefully constructed melodies are delightfully lyrical. The lyrics themselves, though, are poor, crammed with repetition and cliché. Generally downbeat, the work is heavy on emotion and very light on humour. The sincerity might grate – it’s a question of taste –and there’s a general air of entitlement in the songs, Nothing More is a good case in point, a sweet duet where “All I want” turns out to be quite a long list!

Andy Cox and Adrian Hansel

The performers make the evening by squeezing the most out of the songs. Emma Hatton get the show off to a great start with a song about a performer’s ambitions – it’s a mock audition that makes you certain she would get any job. Andy Coxon and Adrian Hansel impress with their acting skills, as well as their voices, as they perform as a couple in a number of songs. Some of these are sickly sweet, so credit to both for grounding the pieces a little. Jodie Jacobs also adds value to her numbers; in truth she has more personality than the songs she’s singing, and she sounds great. Likewise, the strong voices of Dean John-Wilson and Alexia Khadime propel the songs. They both have beautiful voices, manage to make most of the earnestness convincing and, with a mix of sweetness and sheer power, are a privilege to hear. Accompanied by just piano and violin, The Distance You Have Comeprovides a chance to hear all six top-notch talents in an intimate setting that is well worth travelling for.

Until 28 October 2018


Photos by Darren Bell

“Aladdin” at the Prince Edward Theatre

Nobody does family entertainment like Disney. As this latest transfer from Broadway illustrates, their franchises cover all bases for a hit. Theatre is always a gamble, but it’s a safe bet that Aladdin will reap dividends, and someone has clearly put a great deal of money on it. With its many neon-coloured costumes and intricate sets (brilliant work by Gregg Barnes and Bob Crowley), this is a sumptuous night out. And that’s not to mention the magic carpet – with this budget they might have paid for a real one.

Adapted from the 1992 animation, Chad Beguelin’s book is a masterclass in moving movie to stage. It’s what people want and the show does exactly what it says on the tin lamp. Maybe it’s churlish (or naïve) but could they have been more adventurous? If I had one wish the film’s romantic theme, A Whole New World, would have been ditched despite its Oscar. It’s an uncharacteristically weak song from the impressive Alan Menken, who wrote the music here, working with Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin on lyrics.

 Jade Ewen and Dean John-Wilson
Jade Ewen and Dean John-Wilson

The additional songs are good and, as they were cut from the original film, they fit well. The first couple of numbers are best, carefully fleshing out the main characters. Dean John-Wilson cuts a dash in the lead (although if you’ve heard his magnificent voice before you might feel he is underused) and Jade Ewen is a charming Princess Jasmine. Combine the strong performances and their opening numbers and the two leads escape from being cartoon characters. Other tunes are catchy, and clever, if functional rather than magical.

With Casey Nicholaw’s ruthlessly efficient direction and choreography there’s little time to pick holes. A breakneck pace defies boredom and there’s plenty of humour as well. The role of Aladdin’s chums, embraced by Nathan Amzi, Stephen Rahman- Hughes and Rachid Sabitri, is a good case in point: their number is good and the staging so exaggerated it might be better suited to a cartoon. But the whole thing is so invigorating, with the addition of some food-based puns, it takes your breath away.

Trevor Dion Nicholas
Trevor Dion Nicholas

Aladdin’s secret weapon is, of course, the Genie. It’s the same for this show. Travelling with the production is Trevor Dion Nicholas, a real high value pro: commanding the stage, directing the fun and guiding the pieces wry edge. Gleefully telling us when his “big production number” is coming up and pointing out “we don’t have time for self discovery”, Nicholas is the proverbial dream. Such a strong theatrical performance fulfils my wish for the show. Bravo.

Booking until 11 February 2017


Photos by Deen van Meer © Disney

“Miss Atomic Bomb” at the St James Theatre

The critics have not been kind to this new musical from Adam Long, Alex Jackson-Long and Gabriel Vick. With the action framed by the 50s enthusiasm for nuclear testing in the Nevada desert, including beauty pageants to entertain tourists coming to see the mushroom clouds, this show feels like an unfinished canvas. Not sharp enough to be a satire, nor energetic enough to be an extravaganza, the romance is too funny and the comedy too lame.

The shame is that the talent on stage is fantastic, with some of my favourite performers. Dean John Wilson and Florence Andrews are the young leads, playing an army deserter and a sheep farmer who fall in love – and they both sound great. The same can’t be said about the songs. Too generic and forgettable, there are maybe three fun tunes. Furthermore, poor pacing stubbornly deflates the show’s momentum.

Dean John-Wilson and Simon Lipkin
Dean John-Wilson and Simon Lipkin

Then there’s Simon Lipkin and Catherine Tate, playing a hotel manager threatened by the mob and a wannabe fashion designer. What these talented comedians manage to salvage out of so little is astonishing. Lipkin can command a stage and Tate have them rolling in the aisles by sheer force of personality. Which is what they have to rely on here. The laughs they generate come mostly from adlibbing.

Florence Andrews, Daniel Boys and Catherine Tate
Florence Andrews, Daniel Boys and Catherine Tate

There’s an excellent performance from Daniel Boys as well, as a banking villain, but why some of the incidental numbers weren’t sacrificed to give him another song is a mystery. The ensemble are committed (if thin on the ground) but over amplified, making listening hard work. The convoluted lyrics are sometimes clever but mostly not worth the effort.

Nearly every line, let alone most of the numbers here, is just that little bit too long. There’s a plot about a Soviet spy and a character or two that could be cut. A harsher hand is needed from co-directors Long and Bill Deamer. But the bigger problem remains the question of what Miss Atomic Bomb really wants to say. There’s an anarchic streak – a song crazily connecting sheep and hope and a good second act opener about the Cold War – that point out potential. Unfortunately there isn’t enough oddity. Inspired moments fail to detonate anything big.

Until 9 April 2016


Photos by Tristram Kenton

“Songs For A New World” at the St James Theatre

Jason Robert Brown is a composer known for his clever musicals and skilled songwriting, both evident in Adam Lenson’s 20th anniversary revival of his first work, Songs For A New World. A song cycle, rather than ‘proper’ musical, it has numbers set in distant ages and places, mixed with those about relationships that could be from any time and anywhere. The songs are connected by a moment when a life changes and a character develops. Startling and original, it’s the music’s instant appeal and variety, rather than the concept, that is the real highlight.

Lenson has some nice touches to suggest the fluidity the show aims for, but he never distracts attention from the performers – wise, as the four stars on stage are truly stellar. They sound better singing solo than as a group, but their voices are fantastic. First the boys – Damian Humbley and Dean John-Wilson – with songs of depression and ambition, often linked by the mistakes of fathers, perfectly delivered. Then Cynthia Erivo, who sounds appropriately heavenly as a woman who sings about her pregnancy and has a wonderful stage presence. But since I’m such a fan, Jenna Russell was my favourite, with the show’s funniest numbers: a suicidal rich bitch and the desperate wife of Santa Claus.

Yet even with performances like these, it’s frustrating to hunt for themes and connections when you really just want to enjoy the music. Songs For A New World feels like a collection of musicals waiting to break out rather than its bolder aim of something abstract. You want each song to develop – they sound so great. And each character introduced is one you want to know better. A surfeit of talent perhaps, the piece is more a soundtrack to love than a show to see.

Until 8 August 2015


Photo by Darren Bell

“Here Lies Love” at the National Theatre

The National Theatre’s gone all trendy. Passing the new, stylish Understudy Bar, to the swanky refurbishment of the Dorfman (formerly Cottesloe) auditorium, you can see that plenty of money has been splashed around. And the first show in the renamed space is just as startling: a musical ‘experience’ by David ‘Talking Heads’ Byrnes and Fatboy Slim (aka Norman Cook).

To be fair, the National does its best to embrace all kinds of work and this production comes from New York’s Public Theatre. Here Lies Love is so achingly ‘out there’ it could annoy, but there’s a stubbornness to do something different that wins admiration. Something this fresh, almost innocent, has its appeal.

Byrnes and Cook aren’t known for musical theatre, rather their iconoclastic approaches to pop music. Here Lies Love is about Imelda Marcos – yet there’s no mention of her infamous shoe collection. It’s a story of revolution, like other notable musicals, but the Philippines People Power Revolution was a peaceful one; a truly inspiring story, but not automatically the greatest drama.

The dance music works surprisingly well with dramatic political events that call on the crowd. But the beat fails to deliver when a song aims for emotional sincerity, creating bathos instead. A DJ, played by Martin Sarreal, presides over events, but it’s notable that his finest moment is with an acoustic guitar rather than at a turntable.

The show is a collection of songs rather than a true musical – which is interesting, but creates some problems. Exposition comes from signs and voice-overs rather than the songs. Lyrics aren’t strong but occasions when real life transcripts are utilised are gripping. Imelda’s rags to riches story isn’t exactly wasted but it isn’t fully explored either. What depth the characters have comes from the performances.

Jpeg 4. Christopher Chung (ensemble) and Mark Bautista (Fedinand Marcos)_Here Lies Love_credit Tristram Kenton
Mark Bautista as Fedinand Marcos

And the performances are fantastic. Seldom have I seen such an energetic cast on stage, nor, incidentally, such a good-looking one.  is stunning in the lead role, making Imelda an unexpected heroine and a suitably magnetic figure. Imelda’s love interests, first the aspiring, later rival, politician Ninoy Aquino (Dean John-Wilson) and then her husband Ferdinand (Mark Bautista), both have great stage presence. All can sing and dance powerfully well – and that’s no mean feat when you are running a country at the same time.

The staging is remarkable; a huge technical treat, forcefully directed by Alex Timbers, with special ushers to marshal the crowd around a rotating stage. All this immersion is so fashionable it can seem tokenistic, but if it’s your thing you will dance and sing along. There’s a lesson in line dancing – and don’t forget the Philippines invented karaoke. Here Lies Love almost lives up to its tag line of being ‘revolutionary’. Despite connections to other musicals and theatre trends, it’s not quite like anything else – which is a pretty strong recommendation.

Until 8 January 2015


Photos by Tristram Kenton