If you live on the Internet and know anything about musical theatre, you will probably know about Rebecca. The subject of a viral YouTube documentary, it comes with an illustrious, if infamous, history, having its Broadway run pulled last minute after being plagued with problems. It has been staged in German, however, the new staging at the Charing Cross Theatre is the first time the musical by Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay has been successfully staged in English. It thus comes with a hefty reputation.
Kunze and Levay have written a show that is reminiscent of a classic musical. There are hooks and motifs that will be stuck in my head for a long time to come: the score feels like that of traditional 1960s musicale, in that it is big, sweeping and grand, yet at the same time delicate. This may be in part due to the 18 piece orchestra, something that did seem surprising when it was announced for the 265-seat Charing Cross Theatre. In fact, this grand orchestra are in a separate room, and being piped through the speakers. Whilst they sound phenomenal, if the preshow announcement hadn’t have said that the performance was conducted by Robert Scott, I may not have remembered that there was a live orchestra for the performance in the first place. The effect of having them is almost totally lost.
Whilst the score is classic and graceful, there are moments where the lyrics seem to fall flat. This is a musical that was originally written in German and translated into English by Christopher Hampton and Michael Kunze, and you can tell where the rhymes don’t quite work—songs end on a peculiar word and performers have to sing out awkward vowels. It isn’t necessarily bad as such, more jarring.
Instead, it is the performances that stand out in Rebecca. Lauren Jones shines as ‘I’, somehow both coy and shy simultaneously. Her voice fills the theatre effortlessly, a manifestation of the character you deeply want to believe and root for. Kara Lane as Mrs Danvers is creepy—in the best possible way. She seems to glide across the stage, ethereal and ghostlike. In the final scenes, rushed as they may be, she becomes frantic and I can honestly say I have never been terrified more by an performance on stage. Richard Carson dominates the space as Maxim de Winter, imposing and yet horrifyingly vulnerable. The ensemble blend their voices in a manner that borders on the sublime, moving through the audience to create a space that feels bigger than it is.
Rebecca is a show carried by its performers. The score gives them room to play, however, it is the staging and sound design—or perhaps, the physical capacities of the venue the show is in—where it falls ever so slightly flat. However, the vocal talent on stage far makes up for what is missing.
Rebecca will be performed at the Charing Cross Theatre until 18 November.
Words by Jess Boot-Cowie
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