The English language premiere of Rebecca, the musical based on Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 novel, has opened in London at the Charing Cross Theatre, and not on Broadway as was originally intended. It’s been some fifteen years since it was supposed to open across the pond, but a series of scandals more unbelievable than anything Du Maurier could have written, put the brakes on the production.
The producers here are different, and completely unrelated to the New York team who lost the rights and faced investigations from the FBI, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. So it’s quite the coup for the Charing Cross to have secured the musical for London, with Alejandro Bonatto directing.
Written by Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay, and translated by Christopher Hampton, this sumptuous musical has all the ingredients for an edge of your seat romance come thriller, whether it manages to achieve everything it sets out to is up for debate.
The stage musical version of Rebecca follows a very similar path to the novel, telling the story of a young, unnamed woman who marries the wealthy widower Maxim de Winter and moves to his imposing English estate, Manderley.
Haunted by the memory of his first wife, Rebecca, who died under mysterious circumstances, the new bride faces the oppressive presence of the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. As she tries to find her place in this forbidding mansion, secrets unravel, and the past comes to light, leading to a gripping tale of love, betrayal, and the sinister spectre of Rebecca that threatens to destroy everything in its wake.
There are twenty-two original songs to enjoy here, and on the whole, Sylvester Levay’s grand and imposing music is a joy to listen to, stirring the senses at every turn, especially in combination with Michael Kunze’s lyrics and plot twisting book.
Being perfectly honest, the show could lose half a dozen songs and it would have a negligible effect on the plot; some of the sung through dialogue gets a bit repetitive and there’s probably a reprise too many of the title song.
The first act really does take its time to get anywhere (although the romance is a blink and you’ll miss it affair), establishing the nervous and naive character that will go on to become the second Mrs. De Winter, and setting up the wicked and unhinged nature of Mrs. Danvers, played with superb maniacal coldness by Kara Lane.
The second act feels more gripping, as we see Lauren Jones take control of the situation the newlywed finds herself in. Jones leads a majority of the musical numbers and displays a beautiful singing voice. As Maxim De Winter, Richard Carson does a marvellous job as the suave widower still haunted by his deceased wife, Carson’s rendition of ‘I’ll Never Forget Her Smile’ is especially moving.
What is particularly refreshing though, is the handful of songs led entirely by the ensemble. It’s very rare for so many numbers not to feature any of the leads, instead being driven by the supporting cast, allowing the audience to enjoy some standout performances from the likes of Scott McClure, Tarisha Rommick and Elliot Swann.
Ron Howell’s choreography is slick and well executed, in the number ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’ the movement perfectly creates the feeling of being lost at sea. Nicky Shaw’s production design is, on one hand, impressive; folding flats create numerous unique locations, from a hotel in Monte Carlo, to the sprawling interior rooms of Manderley. But none of it really screams opulence, and it does make scene changes a little clunky sometimes.
This English language debut of Rebecca is an admirably ambitious production that needs a bigger space to really ignite the story’s passion. The cast are truly wonderful, but it feels like they’re being held back by the production’s inability to live up to the scale it’s trying to achieve.