'Rebecca' review — an ambitious musical adaptation of du Maurier's classic novel
Read our three-star review of the English-language premiere production of Rebecca, now in performances at the Charing Cross Theatre to 18 November 2023.
Rebecca opened in Vienna 17 years ago, and the show has encountered many challenges since then. The journey to produce this musical in English has been difficult, but the mysteries of Manderley have found their way to the London stage at the Charing Cross Theatre.
Rebecca is one of the most successful German musicals of all time, and the show has played in 12 countries, including Japan, Finland, and Korea. Producers announced a Broadway production of Rebecca in 2012, but the show never materialised due to a string of financial difficulties in a now-infamous scandal. The long-awaited English premiere of the musical will be welcomed by those who have followed Rebecca for years.
Based on Daphne du Maurier's 1938 thrilling gothic novel, the musical focuses on the wealthy Maxim de Winter (Richard Carson) and his new wife (Lauren Jones), who is referred to as "I", as she moves into his grand estate. The pacing set by the writers makes the whirlwind romance at the beginning feel rushed — an almost 'blink and you'd miss it' moment so they can quickly move into the action.
The memory of Rebecca, the first wife of Maxim, who met her untimely demise in a mysterious drowning accident, haunts the Manderley estate. Her presence lingers over the estate in an almost sinister way, thanks to Mrs Danvers (Kara Lane), who repeatedly reprises the title song to make sure you don't forget it. The presence of a new wife roaming the estate comes much to the dismay of the scheming housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, who resents her as an unworthy replacement for Rebecca. Lane's character often lurks ominously in the background, hiding in the shadows.
Jones leads many of the big numbers with her sublime vocals as she grows from the timid new wife into the confident lady of the house. Carson plays the secretive Mr de Winter, who truly excels in the role as his character reaches breaking point.
Sylvester Levay (music) and Michael Kunze's (lyrics) sweeping score is brilliantly brought to life by an 18-piece orchestra in the theatre's newly built pit. Kunze and Levay's other work includes the musical Elisabeth, which has attracted an audience of over 10 million worldwide but has yet to receive an English-language production.
Rebecca is undoubtedly an ambitious production, but whether or not the production manages to capture the suspense and intrigue of the book is questionable. Clunky scene changes often interrupt the narrative flow, as actors sing in front of a curtain while transitions happen behind. The staging of the show's firey climax feels underwhelming as the room fills with so much dry ice it becomes difficult to see. In contrast, Matt Powell's projections of the choppy seas around the Manderley estate, from where Rebecca never returned, are visually stunning.
Ultimately, this production of Rebecca needs some smoothing out. Sometimes, large-scale musicals can work better in a more intimate setting, such as From Here To Eternity, which ran at the same theatre last year, eight years after it ran in the West End. Kunze and Levay's musical feels like it should be performed on a grander scale (think Phantom of the Opera), which makes this production feel limited in what it can achieve.
Rebecca is at the Charing Cross Theatre through 18 November. Book Rebecca tickets on London Theatre.
Photo credit: Richard Carson and Lauren Jones (Photo by Mark Senior)
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