Sunday, November 27, 2016

Unohdetut nuoret naiset

Kirjailija, opettaja Tommi Kinnunen kirjoitti pari viikkoa sitten mainion kolumnin. Tekstissään Kinnunen peräänkuuluttaa nuorille suunnattuja teatteriesityksiä, joiden pääpaino ei ole opettavaisessa tarinassa. "Esimerkkien perusteella koululaisnäytännöt pohjautuvat enemmän tai vähemmän kuvitteelliseen käsitykseen siitä, millaista teini-ikä on", Kinnunen tykittää. Olen itse kirjoittanut samasta aiheesta, enkä voisi olla vahvemmin samaa mieltä.

Kinnusen kolumnin lukeminen palautti mieleeni erään ajatuksen, jota olen pohdiskellut jo pitempään. Jos nuorison toiveita keskimäärin ymmärretään teattereissa huonosti, on tietty osa nuorista unohtunut ohjelmistosuunnittelussa aivan kokonaan.

Miksi missään ei esitetä teinitytöille suunnattua teatteria?


Ainakin omasta näkökulmastani ja kokemuksestani vaikuttaa siltä, että silloin harvoin kun nuorille tehdään muuta kuin itsemurhaan kulminoituvia kiusaamissaagoja, seikkailevat esitysten sankareina yleensä pojat.

En toki väitä, etteikö kuka tahansa voisi samaistua poikien tarinoihin. Ymmärrän myös, että nimenomaan pojille suunnatuilla esityksillä on arvokas tavoite – on tärkeää haastaa ennakkoluuloja, joiden mukaan kaikenlaisia taideharrastuksia pidetään yhä tyttöjen puuhana. Teatteri on kaikille.

Mutta silti kysyn: mikä teatteri uskaltaisi tuottaa ensisijaisesti teinitytöille suunnatun näytelmän?

Minulla on jo tarjota näytelmälle aihekin, tai oikeastaan monta. Minkä tahansa kirjaston nuortenosastolta löytyy nimittäin hyllymetreittäin vaihtoehtoja.

Teinitytöille suunnattu kirjallisuus on ollut vuosikymmenestä toiseen täynnä kiinnostavia, persoonallisia ja särmikkäitä nuoria naisia. Itselleni (ikä: 23) rakkaita olivat muun muassa Vihervaaran Anna, poikatyttö Tiina, punkkari-Sara ja prinsessa Mia, ja nykyteineillä on varmasti omat suosikkihahmonsa. Tyttökirjoja luetaan ja rakastetaan vuodesta toiseen. Eikö niiden sankarittarien tarinoita voisi siis kertoa myös teatterin lavalla?

Seuraa karkea yleistys ja silkkaan mutuun pohjautuvaa spekulaatiota. Suurin osa suomalaisten teatterien johtajista on miehiä. Veikkaan, että moni heistä ei välitä tai edes tiedä tyttökirjaperinteen olemassaolosta – saati että pysähtyisi pohtimaan, olisiko tytöille suunnatussa kirjallisuudessa ainesta peräti näytelmäksi. Miehille sana nuortenkirja voi tarkoittaa aivan eri teoksia kuin naisille.

Onneksi tietoa nuorten naisten lukutottumuksista on saatavilla muillekin kuin Uudenkuun Emilian kanssa varttuneille runotytöille. Kirjastonhoitajilla ja äidinkielenopettajilla olisi varmasti antaa osviittaa siihen, mikä tyttöihin juuri nyt kolahtaa. Teinitytöiltä itseltään voisi pyytää neuvoja vaikkapa nettikyselyn muodossa.

Itse koin tyttökirjojen lukemisen kovin yksinäiseksi puuhaksi. Tosielämän ystävätyttöni eivät jakaneet rakkauttani kirjojen sankarittariin. Aivan varmasti koulussani olisi ollut muitakin tyttökirjojen ystäviä, mutta koska lukuharrastuksesta ei huudeltu, emme koskaan törmänneet toisiimme. Tyydyin nauttimaan suosikkikirjojeni tarinoista yksin.

Kuvitelkaapa siis, millainen kokemus kaltaisilleni, lukuharrastuksessaan yksinäisille tytöille (ja totta kai siinä samalla myös muita ikäkausia ja sukupuolia edustaville, samanhenkisille haaveilijoille ja sukulaissieluille) olisi tulla teatteriin ja kokea yhdessä elävä, hengittävä versio jostakin suosikkikirjastaan.

Paljon puhutaan siitä, että keski-ikäiset ja sitä vanhemmat naiset pitävät ahkerina kulttuurinkuluttajina suomalaiset teatterit pystyssä. Tämän päivän teinitytöt ovat joku päivä niitä keski-ikäisiä. Tulevaisuuden katsomot eivät täyty, jollei nykytyttöjä saada koukkuun. Siinäkin valossa olisi hienoa nähdä nimenomaan teinitytöille suunnattu esitys. Jonkin suosikkikirjan pohjalta – tai ehkäpä joku nykyhetken suosituimmista tytöille kirjoittavista nuortenkirjailijoista voitaisiin jopa pyytää kirjoittamaan tarkoitukseen sopiva uusi näytelmä?


Tytöt on unohdettu myös toisella tavalla. Uskoakseni aivan yhtä tärkeää kuin nostaa esille nuorten naisten tarinoita olisi myös kertoa meille nuorille (ja totta kai vanhemmillekin) naisille tarinoita vanhoista naisista.

Naisten puutteellisesta edustuksesta teatterilavoilla on puhuttu paljon. Tilanne ei tietenkään ole sama kaikissa teattereissa ja kehitys kehittyy koko ajan, mutta jälleen karkeasti yleistäen voidaan todeta, että vanhojen naisten tarinat ovat yhä paitsiossa teatterien ohjelmistoissa.

Itse ajattelen, että keski-ikäisten ja sitä vanhempien naisten tuominen päärooliin entistä useammin on tärkeää myös nuoren naisen näkökulmasta. Meidän itsetunnollemme tekisi hyvää nähdä lavalla esimerkkejä kaikenlaisista tavoista olla nainen. Ei vain vaimo, äiti ja isoäiti, vaan myös sankari ja tavis, hajottaja ja hallitsija, pyhimys ja pahis. Jo rautakautisissa legendoissa voimakas naisjohtaja herätti Kalevan pojissa pelkoa ja kunnioitusta. Tuokaa hänen sisarensa teatterilavoille!

Fiktiiviset naishahmot voivat olla meille nuorille naisille aivan yhtä tärkeitä esikuvia kuin tosielämän naiset. Vanhojen naisten puuttuminen kuvitteellisista tarinoista lähettää nuorille naisille vaivihkaisen viestin, että naisen elämä päättyy ennen viittäkymmentä ikävuotta, että hän keski-iän ylitettyään muuttuu näkymättömäksi. Aika kamala tulevaisuudenkuva.

Kaikista taiteenlajeista juuri teatterin toivoisi tarttuvan tähän ongelmakohtaan ja korjaavan sen. Jos rooleja vanhoille naisille ei ole, voidaan niitä onneksi kirjoittaa lisää – tai miksipä nainen ei voisi myös astua minkä hyvänsä klassisen mieshahmon saappaisiin ja tehdä roolista omansa.


Toistan loppuun sen, mitä olen aikaisemminkin sanonut: jos nykynuoria ei saada innostumaan teatterista, saa moni talo lyödä lähivuosikymmeninä lapun luukulle. 

Samalla kun pidätte tämän mielessä, otattehan nuoret naiset huomioon.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Les Misérables in Wermland Opera: Addendum

Last weekend, it was time for the year's second musical trip to Sweden!

Also time for the year's second trip to see Les Misérables in Wermland Opera in Karlstad, since I have a bit of a fixation like that.

I saw Wermland Opera's Les Mis first time this July. It filled me with the special glee only a fantastic production of this musical can inspire. Afterwards, I wondered if it's maybe the very best production of Les Misérables I've ever seen.

Having now seen it for the second time, let's take a short look at the experience. How did the production hold up?


Best things first.

In my original review, I said the following about Christer Nerfont's Jean Valjean:

"In short, I have never seen this thoroughly thought-out, three-dimensional, human portrayal of Jean Valjean's character. This is the first time the character has felt truely relatable to me."

Having seen the show for the second time, that is more true than ever. Nerfont's Jean Valjean is everything I could hope for the character to be.

Les Misérables is based on a 19th century novel with 19th century storytelling and Big Emotions – our hero essentially dies of a broken heart. It's no wonder Jean Valjean often feels a bit unrealistic and distant. Nerfont's Valjean, though, is none of that. He is a real person through and through, every action justified, every detail thought out (seriously, pay attention to his hands whenever he is trying to keep his calm while confronted by Javert). I couldn't bear to take my eyes off him whenever he was onstage, afraid I would miss some interesting nuance if I did!

I'm also glad I went for the second round since it gave me a chance to properly appreciate Cecilie Nerfont Thorgersen as Fantine.

I think I have found my dream Fantine. Nerfont Thorgersen's take is very angry and not fragile at all. This is a woman who has been let down by everybody, but even so, she refuses to break and keeps on fighting. The most important of all, she is a mother who loves her daughter with every fibre of her being. She doesn't feel regretful at all – it's all been for Cosette, so what would there be to regret? Nerfont Thorgersen's I Dreamed a Dream is especially impressive. It's such a journey through emotions, from hurt to longing and anger, I completely forgot how overdone the song is. I just listened and felt for the character.

Photo source: Facebook

In the role of Javert, we saw understudy John Alexander Eriksson. I liked him better than principal Philip Jalmelid. Jalmelid's out-of-this-world gorgeous singing remains unparalleled (though Eriksson's great!), but acting-wise, I prefer Eriksson's calmer, more stoic approach.

Eriksson is a very young Javert. Discussing the matter, me and my friends came to the conclusion it actually adds to the character. Maybe the Javert we see in the musical's prologue is an insecure young man who hides his self-doubts behind a harsh facade – and takes the hardships that come his way too personally, dwelling upon his mistakes until they turn into obsessions. By the time Javert and Valjean meet on the barricade, it's just been way too long for Javert to let go anymore. Eriksson does a great job highlighting the character's black-and-white worldview in Stars, making even a hardened Les Mis fan like me to stop and really listen to the lyrics for once!

It's a shame, however, that in James Grieve's direction, Javert is quite simply the villain of the piece. While Javert and Jean Valjean's scenes together are wonderfully intensive, our antagonist is still presented as a baddie who dies a horrible dark death all alone, and yet, is not worthy an absolution. I understand where that interpretation is coming from, but personally, I prefer a take with more shades of gray.

Watching the show for the second time highlighted the problems I have with the direction, but on the flip side, the good parts shone even brighter. The story flows forward with a flawless pace, the sets and lights are gorgeous, the orchestra is lush and the vocal performances top-notch. Many of the characterisations – the Thénardiers, Gavroche, Marius – are spot-on. Overall, the production is very refreshing to watch.


So, my sentence? Not quite as good the second time as it was the first, since the special magic of not knowing what you're going to get is gone... But let's be real here. The return trip would have been worth it for Jean Valjean alone. The rest is bonus goodness on top of that.

Les Mis is playing in Karlstad until April 2017. Catch it while you can!

Photos by Mats Bäcker.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Klokkeren fra Notre Dame

Please note: Fredericia Teater offered me a free ticket to see the premiere of their production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I waited for five years to see Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame the musical.

Having now seen Klokkeren fra Notre Dame in Fredericia Teater, Denmark... I could have waited for 15 years and still have been completely satisfied.

Let me tell you.


The Hunchback


Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame the animated movie premiered in 1996. It's based on Victor Hugo's very dark novel featuring a hunchbacked bell-ringer, a beautiful Romani girl, and an obsessive archdeacon. A story set in medieval Paris that centers around prejudice, religion, lust and death – an odd choice for a family picture, to say the least.

While the movie is by far Disney's most daring animated feature, it's still a weird collision of darkness and Mickey Mouse. On one hand, you have a powerful villain song detailing the antagonist's burning yet forbidden lust for a woman. On the other hand, comedic singing gargoyles.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame the musical is what the movie could have been, had they dared to go all the way. It's dark, it's upsetting, it's so close to the novel I'm sure Victor Hugo himself would approve. What's more, it's incredibly massive. The music (composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz), the emotions, the story... It's such a rollercoaster of everything that it makes Les Misérables look rather bland in comparison.

In other words, it's got everything I love in musical theatre.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame the musical first premiered in Berlin in 1999. Finding out about Der Glöckner von Notre Dame five years ago and listening to its cast recording, I fell in love right away. At the same time, was sure I would never see the musical live – certainly Disney wouldn't bring it back, with more family-friendly productions like The Beauty and the Beast and Mary Poppins making bank on Broadway and all around the world.

Little did I know. The musical went through a handful of revisions and was premiered in La Jolla Playhouse in California in 2014. And on October 14th 2016, the revised Hunchback had its European premiere in Fredericia Teater.

I have never been luckier to be a part of an audience.


The Experience


This was no ordinary theatrical experience, so this is not going to be an ordinary review either. I was so overwhelmed and amazed by every single thing, from the performances to the stage tech, that there is no use trying to be the least bit analytical or objective about it.

Instead, I'll list the things that left the biggest impression on me, and try to tell you how the performance made me feel.

The music.

Alan Menken's music is massive and absolutely breathtaking. One of the best musical scores ever composed, especially if you're like me and enjoy huge and dramatic. In Fredericia Teater, every bit from ballads to booming ensemble numbers, every Latin chorus and solo line, is sung and played to perfection.

The sound mixing is flawless. On Friday, it felt like I was like being enveloped by music instead of barely listening to it.

It didn't matter a thing that I'm Finnish and the show was in Danish. Knowing the novel, the movie, the cast recording and some Swedish, I understood about 20% of the dialogue... and 100% of the emotions.

It actually feels nice, that there are still things for me to understand here, dialogue that I couldn't yet grasp that contains more insight into the story and the characters. You see – I feel like this premiere was just the beginning of a long relationship with a new favourite musical, a musical I will in time see in many different languages and learn to know by heart.

I can't wait.

The performances.

I would love to say something informative and profound about the actors performing in this fantastic show, but right now, I can't. As far as I'm concerned, they are all absolutely perfect for their roles – and while little moments I loved keep coming back to me, I'm still too awestruck by everything to really analyze what I enjoyed. I truely wish I could say more, but as of now, there are no words.

Maybe I can come back to this after I've seen the musical the second time in summer 2017.


The scenography.

First of all: I have never seen digital scenography like this.

With screens surrounding the first six rows of seats from three directions, the digital imagery by Jacob Bønsdorff Eriksen and Thomas Agerholm takes us inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral and on the streets, squares and rooftops of medieval Paris. The 3D animation of moving up and down in between the floors of the church was so impressive the whole audience applauded.

The production is an intriguing mix of digital and traditional, combining the animation with simple yet gorgeous wooden sets. One fantastic idea is how a part of the audience sits onstage in movable pews wearing cloaks, acting as spectators and congregation members. This way, by moving the audience to the right spot, it looks like the already big ensemble suddenly doubles in size.

What's more, the floor itself shakes with the events. I'm not exaggerating when I say that. They have literally installed some technology in the theatre that makes the floor shake.

And the best part? Watching all of this, it didn't felt like I'm surrounded by impressive theatrical gimmicks. It felt like I'm surrounded by the story, that I'm being a part of what the characters are going through. Of course everything around me is lit by digital fire and shaking – that's what the character is feeling. It's only natural that the audience sees and feels it too.

If there is something better in the world than live theatre, please, do tell.

The audience.

This premiere wasn't watching a group of actors acting out something for an audience, not even an audience really enjoying a performance. This was performers and audience existing in a symbiosis, sharing and amplifying the same experience. I have never been a part of a theatre audience as genuinely excited and enthusiastic as this one – and I've been a very active theatre fan for eight years now.

The moments after Hellfire, the big showstopper near the end of the first act... The best two minutes I have ever experienced in theatre. First, almost falling into a trance for a moment watching Mads M. Nielsen's so-good-it-transcends-words performance, snapping out of it to understand how gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous the music and the scenography is and how it feels like you're completely surrounded by it, enveloped by what's happening. Then the song ending and all of us in the audience exploding, screaming, stomping our feet. Heaven knows how long we would have gone on had they not continued – with a fantastic, drawn-out comedic scene that made the audience's overcharged emotions spill out in near-hysterical giggles.

Moments like that, a room full of total strangers experiencing the same story and feeling it together, reacting and sharing our feelings with each other... The world is cruel, the world is ugly / But there are times and there are people / When the world is not.

For me, experiences like this make life worth living.


The Conclusion


It sounds like such a cliché, saying something is the best you have ever seen.

The thing is, sometimes that statement is true.

By the intermission, I felt like climbing on walls, ripping my skin off and strangling someone – all out of sheer excitement. Heart beating twice its usual rate, hands shaking, running out of breath. Jumping up the second the show was over, clapping my hands until they hurt. Waking up at 4:12AM the following morning, completely awake with heart pounding in my chest, all because of what I had experienced the night before.

Friday's Klokkeren fra Notre Dame premiere is the best musical performance I have seen in my life.

The Rating


🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

11 flames of hellfire out of 10

Photos by Søren Malmose.
Performances in Fredericia in fall 2016 and in Copenhagen in summer 2017. Book your tickets now.
Also read: another review in English at dlp-photos.com

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ansa

Huom. Sain bloggarina ilmaisen lipun musikaaliin.

On ikävä fiilis tuntea itsensä tyhmäksi katsoessaan suomalaisen kaupunginteatterin musikaalia. Luulla kerran toisensa jälkeen saavansa otteen hahmoista, tarinasta ja teoksen symboliikasta, kunnes jutun juju taas lipsahtaa käsistä ja ajatus sekoaa.

Jyväskylän kaupunginteatterin Ansa jättää hämmentyneen olon, huonolla tavalla.


Sirkku Peltolan kirjoittaman musikaalin tarinassa seurataan myslipatukkatehtaalla työskentelevää Ansaa (Tarja Matilainen), jota musikaalin alaotsikko kuvaa "liian hyväksi ihmiseksi". Muiden onkin helppo polkea auttavaista Ansaa – kunnes patukkatehtaalle saapuu duracellpupumainen konsultti (Sauli Suonpää), joka kouluttaa tiimiin uutta tehoa ja pöllyttää samalla Ansan ajatusmaailman aivan uuteen uskoon. Vaan kuinka käykään, kun globalisaation tuulet puhaltavat tehdashalliin?

Kaiken kaikkiaan musikaali on hyvin roolitettu. Matilaisen Ansassa on herkkyyttä, voimaa ja karmivaa hurahdusta. Eniten potkua runsaan hahmogallerian tyypeistä on Saara Jokiahon esittämässä Tuulikissa, miestään pettävässä perheenäidissä, joka tekee tiliä omien valintojensa kanssa vaikuttavassa Onni ja muita tekosyitä -kappaleessa.

Iiro Rantalan musiikki ja Heikki Salon sanat ovat kaunista kuultavaa ja Lassi Hirven johtaman bändin soitossa on svengiä, vaikka teatterisalin akustiikka laulua mukiloikin. En kuitenkaan ole musikaalin tarinankuljetuksen viideksi minuutiksi paikalleen pysäyttävien laulukohtausten fani, olivatpa kappaleet miten hienoja hyvänsä. Kun melkein kaikki laulut sijoittuvat fantasiamaailmaan, ajatuksella on niiden aikana liikaa aikaa harhailla.

Ansa putoaa omituiseen paikkaan perinteisen juonellisen tarinan ja konseptimusikaalin (musikaali, jossa teoksen teema on yhtenäistä juonta tärkeämpi – esimerkiksi käy vaikkapa Hair) välimaastoon. Juoni ja hahmot eivät ole realistisia, mutteivät toisaalta myöskään aivan tarpeeksi abstrakteja tai parodisia tullakseen tulkituiksi silkkoina symboleina. Juuri mikään ei tunnu todelliselta, kokonaisuus on erittäin vieraannuttava.

Kaiken kaikkiaan Ansa-musikaali, olkoonkin että se on vasta yhdeksän vuotta vanha (ensi-ilta Tampereen Työväen Teatterissa vuonna 2007 nimellä Patukkaooppera) ja että käsikirjoitusta on päivitetty, ei tunnu aivan tältä päivältä. Vaikka globalisaatio vie varmasti työpaikkoja Suomesta tulevaisuudessakin, tuntuu, että patukkatehtaan tarina on jo kuultu. Musikaali ei enää tuo aiheeseen merkittäviä uusia avauksia.

Raikkaampaa työelämän pilkkaa ja kritiikkiä tarjoaa vaikkapa Sami Keski-Vähälän ja Esa Leskisen Gogol-päivitys Päällystakki (kantaesitys Ryhmäteatterissa vuonna 2009), jossa nykypäivää leimaa pätkätyöläisyys. Myös nuorten syrjäytyminen ja toisaalta liikakoulutus suosituille aloille olisi tällä hetkellä kritiikin kohteena konsulttien huiputuksia ja duunarien massapotkuja kiinnostavampi.

Kaiken tämän antaisin helposti anteeksi, jos saisin musikaalista jotain irti (eihän Ranskan vuoden 1832 kansannousukaan ole hetkeen ollut ajankohtainen, mutta musikaali on silti hyvä), vaan kun en saa. Ansa herättää paljon kysymyksiä, muttei anna katsojalleen tarpeeksi mielekkäiden vastausten muodostamiseen.


Tuntuu, että minun pitäisi saada tästä roppakaupalla ajatuksen aihetta, nauttia satiirista ja taputtaa musikaalifantasian ja arkirealismin väliselle kontrastille. Toisin käy. En saa teoksesta minkäänlaista otetta.

Tulipahan käytyä.

Kuvat: Jiri Halttunen
Muissa blogeissa: Jälkisoitto, Teatterikärpäsen puraisuja

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pants Off!

Please note: Lahden kaupunginteatteri offered me a free ticket to see their production of The Full Monty.

I and the Finnish population at large have rather different tastes in musicals.

The higher a show is on the list of Finland’s most-produced foreign musicals (more about that list here), the likelier is that I’ll dislike it. Fiddler on the Roof? Ugh. Sound of Music? Bleh. My Fair Lady? Nah. Just not for me.

So naturally, I was suspicious of The Full Monty. It’s one of Finland’s most-produced musicals of the last decade, maybe even the most produced. A silly show about men stripping. That just cannot be worth watching.

Or?


The Full Monty is a Broadway musical based on the 1997 movie, a comedy about six unemployed men forming a striptease act. The movie was a hit, but the musical only had modest success on Broadway – running from 2000 to 2002 – and an even shorter nine-month-run in the West End in 2002.

In Finland, The Full Monty had its premiere in 2002, titled Housut pois (”Pants Off”). Then another professional production in 2008. Two in 2010. 2012. 2013. Two in 2015. 2016. On top of that, countless amateur productions around the country. It’s a wonder, really, that I’ve managed to avoid it this long!

Last weekend, I saw my first production of the musical in Lahden kaupunginteatteri.

I’m not familiar with the movie, and in my experience, the musical has a light and brainless imago attached to it: they’re blue-collar guys who do amateur striptease, ha-ha. I was glad to find out that’s not everything there is to this. The musical actually discusses multiple serious issues including homophobia, body image, unemployment and a father’s right to see his child.

It also surprised me how three-dimensional the main character Jerry Lukowski is. Played by a longtime personal favourite actor, Tuukka Leppänen... Oh me, oh my.

Jerry is the driving force behind the central striptease act. He is motivated to put up the show because he needs to earn money fast or his ex-wife will sue him over unpaid child support payment, and also because the town’s women are excited about a visiting Chippendales show. Jerry is jealous and convinced the touring male dancers are all gay. So, he reasons, wouldn’t it be way better if the ladies could see real heterosexual men strip?

In short, our hero is a jerk. Homophobic and chauvinist with a side of anger management issues. Despite that, though, you can't help rooting for him. He loves his son, is resourceful and driven. You wish him to succeed. Above all, you hope he will learn some important lessons along the way.


And the way Leppänen portrays his character... I haven’t seen this – how to even describe it – genuine and real, true-to-life musical character in ages.

Musical characters are by nature larger than life. They deal with huge emotions and, when words aren’t enough, resort to singing and dancing. Musical theatre is a very unrealistic medium, so it’s hard to forget the people onstage are acting, even if they’re absolutely brilliant.

Not the case with Leppänen’s performance. It’s not often you encounter a musical character this natural, this real. A 3D real-life person, a complex mix of positive and negative qualities. The performance isn't tearjerkingly touching, or mindbendingly awesome. It's just human, through and through – and as such, thoroughly impressive.

Not to say Leppänen’s Jerry is the only point of interest. The musical is actually full of pretty interesting guys. The rest of the leading six don’t have quite as many songs to sing, but they’re still all three-dimensional and sympathetic, both the way they’re written and the way this production portrays them.

It’s a shame that the women of the musical, then, are shallow creatures. They like to shop and watch handsome men dance, love their husbands, and that’s all we ever get to know about them.

Of course this story is first and foremost about men’s struggles. And sure, women’s place in society is touched upon – most of the ladies we encounter in the show are employed, unlike their husbands. But even so, it doesn’t seem quite right that the only strong female character in the whole show is the striptease act’s pianist Jeanette (in Lahti, played by the charismatic Satu Säävälä).


So. I guess The Full Monty joins Rocky on my list of overly masculine musicals that took me by surprise.

I’m of course not as in love with The Full Monty as I am with Rocky (and not only because it’s impossible for me to be as in love with anything as I am with Rocky). The Full Monty’s music, composed by David Yazbek, is good but not especially memorable, even though Lahden kaupunginteatteri’s orchestra plays it to perfection. The story and the mood of the show, while sympathetic and nice, are not especially earthshattering either.

And yet, at the very same time, this is one of those rare performances that leave a physical happy little flutter in my stomach.

Pants... I mean, hats off!

Photos by Aki Loponen and Tarmo Valmela.
Other reviews (in Finnish): Teatterikärpäsen puraisuja, Teatterinna

Monday, September 19, 2016

Shrektacle, Shreplicated

Please note: Helsingin kaupunginteatteri offered me a free ticket to see their production of Shrek.

First things first: did you know Shrek, the 2001 Dreamworks animated hit with three sequels, is based on a book?

I sure didn't, but that's true! Shrek was originally written and illustrated by British author William Steig in 1990. The book tells the story of an ugly ogre who meets an even uglier princess and falls madly in love. There is no short-statured lord evicting fairytale creatures out of his kingdom, and the donkey doesn't talk much, but the basic framework of the story we know and love is all there. Who knew!

I learned this tidbit in the souvenir programme for Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's new production Shrek the Musical. So, let's now try to ignore how this fact has turned my world upside down and instead take a look at the show itself...


Shrek the Musical premiered on Broadway in 2008. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, I think it's a nice adaptation of the movie. It has all the jokes and scenes you remember from the film, but at the same time, it gives the characters new depth. Lord Farquaard's backstory is funny, and acceptance is always a good theme for a family show.

I think the musical's biggest problem is actually the original movie's amazing, effective soundtrack.

I mean ridiculously, absolutely ridiculously effective. The film's use of the song Hallelujah has ruined the Leonard Cohen classic and all its covers for me for good – ever since seeing the movie as a 9-year-old, Shrek has been the first thing I think of when hearing it, and I guess that's how it will be for the rest of my life. And I haven't even watched the movie since I turned 12.

I'm not saying they should've made it a jukebox musical, but it's a bit of a problem that none of Jeanine Tesori's songs are half as catchy as the tunes featured on the movie's soundtrack. The music is easy to listen to and easier to forget.

The musical's pacing is also uneven. The first act moves in fast forward, but when the second act starts, it turns out 80% of the plot has already been told and we enter the Ballad Zone. Luckily, after half an hour of stalling, the pace picks up again. In the end, if nothing groundbreaking, it's still a neat enough show.


And now, Shrek has arrived to Helsinki.

Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's take is not the first Finnish production of Shrek. Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri called dibs in 2013. 22 000 audience members and three years later, the musical comes to the Finnish capital – again helmed by director Kari Arffman and featuring the very same dragon.

It's a mixed bag.

The characters are all charming. I had the luck of seeing understudy Raili Raitala in the role of Princess Fiona. If you didn't know better, you'd think you're watching the principal perform! Raitala is funny and brash with all the qualities a demure princess should not display... In other words, a perfect Fiona. Matti Leino's bubbly and all-around loveable Donkey is another favourite.

Petrus Kähkönen's Shrek is also a likeable creature, but amongst the other colourful characters, the titular ogre feels almost mundane. It's by no means Kähkönen's fault. It's just that when compared to his eccentric princess and his energetic sidekick, our hero, who mostly just wants to be treated with respect and then be left alone, is not all that enthralling. (Fun fact, though: Raitala and Kähkönen played Alfred and Sarah in a recent Finnish production of Tanz der Vampire. It was fun watching them play such a different sort of couple this time!)

Finally, thumbs up to Antti Timonen for walking, running and even dancing on his knees whole night long as the short and evil Lord Farquaard. His deliriously happy run to get the wedding preparations started was the highlight of the whole night for me!


So far, so good – but where I think the production stumbles is the stagecraft. It tries to be a replica of the big and expensive Broadway original and a much smaller production at the same time.

Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's big stage is currently under renovation. The replacement stage for musical productions, Peacock Theatre, has no space to store sets and minimal stage technology. So, instead of big setpieces and special effects, we get 2D sets, designed by Samuli Halla, and a rather puny dragon (the doll itself is neat, but the dragon's second appearance in the musical's climax... Quite underwhelming).

Taken a bit further and completely divorcing it from the movie, the flat approach could have given the show a nice illustrated storybook look. But as it is, it occupies a weird middle ground in between intentionally naïve and cheap-looking. Combined with costume design straight from Broadway... The combo doesn't quite work for me. It needs more oomph.

I's admirably ambitious for Helsingin kaupunginteatteri to produce Shrek on such a difficult stage. Ultimately, however, I don't know if it's a very good decision to cram a big fantasy musical in such a small space. I believe this fairytale world would have worked much better if the theatre had waited for a bit and produced it on their big stage.


So. The current Helsinki Shrek is an odd combination: a carbon copy of Broadway the original when it comes to costumes, a pocket-sized version when it comes to sets. But would it have been quite perfect if done big, either?

I have railed against replica productions before. I will rail against them again. If you ask me, replicas should never be made. Especially not if the original production is available on DVD and digital download, as is the case with the Broadway production of Shrek.

In a show like this, just a touch of local flavour could do wonders.

Shrek features a group of fairytale creatures who, in this replica form, all look decidedly American. There is, for example, an elf... which I only realised when the character introduced itself as one, since the elves of Finnish tradition do not look like that at all. Maybe Dreamworks Theatricals won't allow any changes, but I think it would be so much more fun if each creative team around the world could give at least the fairytale characters their own designs, drawing inspiration from the traditional stories of their respective countries.

Though actually, there is one local nod in the Finnish production: Mikko Paloniemi portrays Karlsson-on-the-Roof, an Astrid Lindgren character that's also well known in Finland. The 2013 Swedish production seems to have featured Nils Holgersson. Wonder if every production is allowed one local character?

I understand that in a musical based on an animated movie, making the world and characters look recognisable is important. At the same time, I find that approach very limiting. Luckily other projects have chosen a different route: the new musical based on the movie Anastasia shows us it's quite possible to base a musical on an animated feature and still have an unique look.

In short: in its replica form, Shrek a pretty nice musical – but how much more interesting it could be if creative teams all around the world were given free hands!

To finish off, I combined a little Youtube playlist of international Shrek the Musical trailers, starting from Helsinki. Take a look and try to spot the differences:


I wonder if it's a mandatory Dreamworks requirement to use the song I'm a Believer
 (the only song from the movie featured in the stage musical) in all promotional material?

Photos by Tapio Vanhatalo.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Treasure Island

Please note: Svenska Teatern invited me to see a performance of Skattkammarön for free.

I have so many things to say about the subject of this review that I figured I might as well start with a tangential confession.

I do not enjoy reading Robert Louis Stevenson's work.

Jekyll and Hyde and Treasure Island are both fascinating stories full of really interesting characters. But were it not for theatrical adaptations... Last time I read Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde took me two weeks (it has 106 pages) and I have still to finish Treasure Island (started last summer). No matter how much I love the characters, there is something in Stevenson's style of writing that really, really does not work for me.

That being said, let's now sail away to Treasure Island. Svenska Teatern's new play Skattkammarön is, for me, as good as they come.


I saw the play this Monday, in a half-empty auditorium with only a handful of other people. It's a shame (everybody should see this), but it lent the performance a very eerie athmosphere. The whole evening felt quite out of this world.

At the same time, everything felt perfect to me.

In the beginning of Skattkammarön, we meet young Jim Hawkins who lives in a small seaside inn with her grandmother. Their life takes an exciting turn when a sailor with a mysterious chest comes to stay at the inn. Once the sailor passes away and Jim finds a treasure map in his belongings, it's time for a big adventure. The local squire hires a crew and they sail away to southern seas, Jim befriends a peg-legged sailor called Long John Silver, the sun is shining and there's not a pirate in sight. Or..?

This version of Treasure Island is dramatised by British dramaturgist Bryony Lavery and had its premiere in the Royal National Theatre in London in 2014. The play is rather different from Stevenson's original story. Most strikingly, our hero Jim is portrayed as a young girl. Stevenson didn't have much regard for women, so I really appreciate this change. There is also another, maybe harder to swallow surprise in store for the fans of the book, but no more about that in this review!

The story has many funny moments, but at heart, oh boy is this a dark tale. Human life has no worth when there's treasure on the table. When put in the right (wrong?) circumstances, everybody can become a traitor, a murderer, a pirate.

I appreciate the grey shades and the questions about morality this play raises. The most thoughtful moments pass quickly to make way for further action – but maybe that's for the best. This way, when the most difficult questions are not answered, they keep haunting you for longer and force you to think for yourself.

Not bad for a pirate story.


Svenska Teatern's production is directed by Paul Garrington, who has among his other credits directed countless replica productions of Phyllida Lloyd's original production of Mamma Mia! all around the world, including Helsinki. I sure like Mamma Mia!, but I'm glad to see Garrington's own style and vision in Skattkammarön. Treasure Island's world is, at the same time, dark, inviting, scary and fascinating.

The production is staged mostly in muted colours, with bright pirate jackets and parrots popping out here and there. Erik Salvesen's sets and Hanne Horte's costumes are both lovely to look at, but I am especially impressed by the lights. Light designer Tom Kumlin creates many incredibly beautiful scenes, be it light shining through an inn's window or stars in a tropical night sky.

I also want to applaud Andreas Lönnquist and Hanna Mikander's sound design. Sounds of waves lapping on the ship's sides and tropical insects flying around surround the audience and transport us right in the middle of the events. The sound mixing during the songs is also strikingly well done.

The casting is spot-on. It's hard picking favourites when you like everybody, but I could mention Misa Lommi's energetic portrayal of Jim Hawkins. When adults don't get the job done, it's better to take matters into your own hands! Niklas Åkerfelt as Long John Silver is just as charming as you'd wish him to be.


I didn't except it, but this play touched me deep. It felt very genuine through and through. It's a sweeping adventure, but at the same time grounded enough for you to see the characters as real people.

Skattkammarön features every single pirate cliché in the book (a parrot on the shoulder, a peg-legged pirate, the black spot, fifteen men on the dead man's chest... all Stevenson's additions to the pirate lore!) but it doesn't exaggerate them. It's all simply a part of the world these people inhabit, very straightforwardly and naturally so.

I can't really find words for what happened in Svenska Teatern on Monday, why this hit me as hard as I did. I couldn't stop my tears during the scene where Jim and Long John Silver stargaze on Hispaniola's deck. One of those moments when everything feels just right.

Shows like this are why I love theatre.

See you on Treasure Island.

Photos by Cata Portin.

P.S. The play is in Swedish but you can request for English, Finnish and Swedish subtitles at the box office, or download them in your phone in advance. Wondering why we have Swedish theatre in Finland? Swedish is Finland's other official language. About 5 % of Finns have Swedish as their native language.
P.P.S. If you really want to hear about that spoiler, the other big thing they changed about Stevenson's original story... Spoilers written in white text in the following space. You've been warned! Why, oh why did they have to kill off Long John Silver?! I kept waiting for him to somehow magically come back to live. He charmed me just like he charmed Jim, my heart was and still is a little broken... LET HIM LIVE!!