There seems to be no source material nowadays which cannot be turned into a musical. However, Rebecca, having its London musical premiere at the Charing Cross Theatre illustrates that some material is really not suitable for such a treatment. This show premiered in Vienna in 2006 and ran for 3 years. It had original German lyrics by Michael Kunze, translated for this production by Christopher Hampton, and music by Sylvester Levay. It follows the story of the famous Daphne Du Maurier novel closely. An unnamed young woman is swept off her feet by the enigmatic Maxim de Winter in a Monte Carlo hotel and agrees to become his wife and returns with him to his home at Manderley on the Cornish coast. However, the memories of the first Mrs De Winter, Rebecca, are everywhere in the house, kept alive by the formidable housekeeper, Mrs Danvers.
Lauren Jones made a very sweet and vulnerable lead as the unnamed woman “I” and had a pleasant singing voice. She was well matched by Richard Carson as the withdrawn and troubled widower. Some of the other casting was less successful. Kara Lane did her best to portray the severe Mrs Danvers but did not quite achieve the sense of brooding menace which is required in such a key part. Alex James-Ward as the other malevolent character, cousin and former lover of Rebecca, was far too jovial.
The main problem with the production was that it did not manage to create the atmosphere of the psychological thriller, which was the hallmark of Du Maurier’s original. In part this was because it had to be reduced to barely 2 hours playing time. But also, because there was, frankly, far too much music in it. There were 38 separate musical numbers listed in the programme. These were all sung with great gusto and at very loud volume by the cast members. It is very difficult to create an atmosphere of suspense and mystery when music is being blared out at a relentless pace and volume and the cast are all singing at top volume. Much of the acting was too melodramatic, and more and better dialogue could have brought out the subtleties of the characters.
The music was easy to listen to. It was played by a large orchestra and all the singers were amplified to very loud volume. There were very few quieter moments and two hours of sound of this intensity became rather overwhelming. The set consisted of a large number of overlapping hinged flats moved efficiently by the cast, often in full sight of the audience, to represent the various different locations of the action. Since most of the action takes place in the Manderley house, a simpler setting might have been more effective.
I suppose if you like the novel and you are a fan of musical theatre you might enjoy this production, but frankly you would be better off re-watching the Hitchcock film and going to see Crazy for You.
Playing until 18th November, https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/rebecca
Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd
Reviewed: 18th September 2023
North West End UK Rating: