Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Klokkeren fra Notre Dame, again

Last weekend, it was finally time to relive the best theatrical performance I have ever seen.

If you haven't read my first review, I recommend you check that out before delving into this – and now, without further ado, let's tackle Fredericia Teater's Danish production of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.


I saw the production twice: on Friday and again on Sunday. I was in Copenhagen for the whole weekend, so in theory, I could have seen the show five times. I however reasoned that if the premiere hit me so hard I could only sleep for about two hours the night after, seeing the show without taking a full day's break in between would probably destroy me.

Friday night's performance was like I expected it would be, coming back to the show after the pure magic of the opening night. It's impossible to repeat a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as simple as that. My mood, and the whole audience's mood, felt calmer and quieter than how I remember the October premiere. I didn't want to strangle anyone during the intermission out of sheer excitement (maybe a good thing), but on the other hand, I got to really pay attention to details this time since I didn't feel like foaming at the mouth uncontrollably the whole time.

It was good, obviously way better than the vast majority of theatrical performances I've seen. Still, had I only seen the show again this once, I would be feeling way more melancholic and nostalgic for the opening night right now. It didn't feel as incredible as it did the first time, and though I knew to expect that, it was still a slightly melancholy feeling.

But then something happened when I came back on Sunday night. The energy and mood in the theatre was different, way more electrifying, though it's impossible to point out why.

Maybe it felt more exciting to me personally because I sat right next to the catwalk part of the stage, in the middle of all the action (Frollo's cape touched me not once but twice! I feel blessed... by the dark and creepy flames of hellfire, I guess). Or maybe something else was different? I really cannot tell. All I know is that there was magic in the air again.

Or maybe it's something to do with one's priorities... While Friday night was all about watching the show as a whole and analysing everything, I guess I can admit Sunday night was decidedly all about watching Frollo. Every second he's onstage and pretty much without blinking.

Look at him!

Archdeacon Claude Frollo, Quasimodo's adoptive father and the antagonist of the story, is one of my biggest favourite characters of all times.

He's a scary villain that does many sorts of disturbed things beyond all redemption – and still, still, I cannot help pitying him. All at once, he's far-fetched (he's so distraught about feeling unwanted sexual attraction that he figures he should literally burn the woman in question alive, with all manner of unnecessary dramatics included) and not all that unrealistic at all (an older white man in a position of power with racist and misogynist opinions). He has so many layers, with his relationships to his brother and Quasimodo and obviously Esmeralda, that he's endlessly interesting to think about.

Lucky me that Mads M. Nielsen's portrayal has absolutely everything I want to see in the character.

There's some good old-fashioned fun villain-ing around with a crazy glint in his eyes, just the right amount of chewing the scenery and even a couple of jokes (his ridiculous cape swish before talking to Esmeralda on the cathedral's roof got me both times). At the same time, he's very terrifying, and when it's needed, also very human. So even when he's at his worst, I cannot help feeling sorry for him – how much better it would be for all of them, Frollo included, if he only was capable of viewing both himself and everybody else in less black-and-white terms.

And then there's the voice.

And then there's the Hellfire scene.

Fredericia Teater's take on Frollo's big solo, Hellfire (during which Frollo comes to the conclusion that Esmeralda must either choose him or die) is quite simply the best thing I've ever seen in theatre. Ever. The music, the choir, the choreography, the digital scenography with the whole cathedral in flames... And, obviously, Nielsen's voice and stage presence. Unreal, I tell you.

I could feel this scene (and the second act finale, too) physically, notably raising my heart rate both times. Actually, to be absolutely and completely honest, I spent half of Sunday thinking soon I'll see Hellfire again with and The Hunchback of Notre Dame too as an afterthought.


All gushing aside, this is not to say that I don't love the whole cast. Seeing my favourite character played to such perfection was a special treat for me, but I'm quite certain you'd walk out just as ecstatic no matter who your favourite character is. It's an overused word, sure, but I mean exactly what I say when I say the casting of this musical is perfect.

I had great difficulty saying anything more than perfect perfect perfect after the opening night, and I'm afraid the problem persists – they're just so good, all of them, it somehow feels quite pointless trying to explain that further. Everything is as it should be. But here are some bullet points.

  • One fascinating thing to watch is the relationship in between Frollo and Lars Mølsted's Quasimodo. In the beginning, there's definitely warmth in between them, moreso than they had in the Berlin production. Makes the ending about six times more powerful. Good heavens.
  • Mølsted won a Singer of the Year award for this role, and hot damn, you don't need to wonder why. I think my favourite Quasimodo song was the gentle, hopeful Heaven's Light – the dreaminess and sweet optimism creates the perfect contrast for Hellfire that comes right after.
  • For the summer run, Bjørg Gamst has taken over the role of Esmeralda. She's fantastic. Taking one look at her introductory dance, it's not hard to understand why all the guys are fascinated by her.
  • This portrayal of Esmeralda's character is sweet and strong and above all so full of life. Kinda makes you wish that for one night only, they'd do the Disney movie ending for a change...
  • Christian Lund's Phoebus is, as a friend put it, a good egg. I love his introductory song and the war flashback sequence especially. (He by the way looks a bit like a viking with the long blond hair, which is a bonus.)
  • I had the luck of seeing two charismatic Clopins: principal Diluckshan Jeyaratnam and understudy Mads Æbeløe Nielsen. I mentioned it in my Berlin review already that I'm not really a fan of the musical version of the character, but these two make the most out of the part. Nielsen sported some pretty neat eye makeup in the role.
  • The ensemble! In a show like this, with such a strong focus on choral music and the ensemble playing many different parts from Parisians to the statues of Notre Dame, you cannot overestimate the ensemble's importance – and they're... perfect perfect perfect, really.


I am so lucky to have encountered this production in the first place, and to have been able to see it not once but thrice.

There certainly are some problems in the musical's script (some things that bother me: the portrayal of the Romani characters is on the stereotypical side, the character of Clopin feels off since the musical takes away his function as the movie's sole narrator but doesn't really give him anything else important to do in exchange, the songs In a Place of Miracles and Someday are basically interchangeable). But when the production's this good... The problems are there, and really, I have a much clearer vision of the musical as a whole now than I did right after the premiere. Yet, at the same time, the good parts are so overwhelming that nothing else matters.

All of my three experiences were very different from each other. A part of me wishes I could keep watching the musical again and again until I can remember every single little detail by heart, but that's hardly realistic. So, I'm glad Sunday night's powerful performance will be my last memory of this production.

To be completely honest again, right now, I feel like I don't want to see any theatre ever again anymore. Other shows might be good, of course, but they're not this – and at the moment, no other thing feels nearly as interesting or exciting.

I know this feeling will fade away the next time I actually see some theatre. At the same time, I know this production will always stay in the back of my mind, as an example of how good theatre can be when it's at its very best.

My 11 flames of hellfire out of 10 rating stands.

Photos by Søren Malmose.

P.S. Three Frollo details I liked the most: 1) how he takes the cross off his neck before visiting Esmeralda in the jail 2) how you can kinda keep track of his mental state by checking out if his hair is neat or all messy 3) him breaking down next to Esmeralda's body.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Der Glöckner von Notre Dame

I'm on tour this summer! On tour with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, that is. Last weekend, I saw Stage Entertainment's Berlin production of the Disney musical twice, and next weekend, it's finally time to see the Danish production I love so much again.

Before that, though, here's a review of the Berlin production.


The show


The Hunchback of Notre Dame the musical is based on Victor Hugo's classic novel and the 1996 Disney movie, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, and book by Peter Parnell.

Most of you probably know the story, but here's a quick recap: the year is 1482 and the city is Paris. The Cathedral of Notre Dame's hunchbacked bellringer Quasimodo, his adoptive father archdeacon Claude Frollo, and handsome soldier Phoebus all fall in love with beautiful Romani girl Esmeralda. The priest Frollo cannot deal with his forbidden feelings and thus sets forth a chain of actions that will change all of their lives (for the worse, and how! It's a complete mess).

An earlier incarnation of the musical, with book by James Lapine, ran in Berlin from 1999 to 2002. After over a decade, the musical was revamped and the new version premiered in California in 2014. The new Berlin production premiered in April 2017 and it's a replica of the American original, directed by Scott Schwartz.

All in all, it's no stereotypical Disney story with animal sidekicks and happy endings. It's dark and heavy and very much in the spirit of Victor Hugo's original novel, and the show feels decidedly old-fashioned. The ensemble narrates the story throughout, and the production relies on rather simple (yet impressive!) sets and costumes. A choir of 24 is prominently featured onstage for the whole show. As they should be: the music, with its many Latin choruses, is some of the most impressive ever written for a musical.

Some of the themes the musical deals with are prejudices and discrimination. That's something that sadly has to be highlighted in today's world, and certainly something that all of us have to pay attention to - I sure know I have work to do with my own prejudices, we all do. With that in mind, I think it should be noted that the musical's book and lyrics refer to the Romani characters with outdated terms that many nowadays consider pejorative. It's in line with Hugo's original writing, sure... but being an 19th century writer, he's hardly any shining example of modern racial sensibility. I've heard there's a foreign dub of the movie (can't remember which language!) that has Frollo using pejorative words and the "good guys" using the neutral terms. I wonder why they didn't do something like that in the musical. The show's heart is in the right place, but the details leave a little to hope for - just something to keep in mind while watching and especially discussing this musical.

No matter what, though, I love this musical. In my ears, the music is perfect. The story is hardly subtle or especially realistic, and that's just why I enjoy it so. It's big in all the best ways and, at best, takes the audience on a journey of larger-than-life emotions and events. Yet it is not too removed from real life, and if you're not careful, it may even make you think... The characters are easy to love (or hate!), but they can be portrayed with a lot of depth, and their relationships and inner motivations are endlessly fascinating to me. Good storytelling, that's what it is.

The premiere of the Danish production of The Hunchback is the best theatrical performance I have ever had the honour of seeing. I cannot forget how that felt, and it obviously affects the way I feel about this production (and any potential future productions of The Hunchback, really). But now, I'll try to forget that for a while and instead, focus on...


The performances



I had the luck of seeing two different Quadimodos: understudy Jonas Hein and principal David Jakobs.

I liked both a lot, but if I have to choose, understudy Hein takes the cake. His portrayal feels a bit younger, a bit more naive and a little sweeter and happier compared to Jakobs's, who in turn seems to have a little darker undercurrent running through his performance. Both sing beautifully and make you feel for the character. Both also absolutely nail the hunchbacked character's unique way of moving. So my opinion's just a matter of personal preference.


Sarah Bowden's Esmeralda is both sweet and tough, with a voice that's enjoyable to listen to. Yet, somehow, she doesn't leave that deep of an impression. She's maybe a bit too much on the sweet and kind side for my tastes, it's just a tiny bit too sugary for me.

Nevertheless, Bowden's Esmeralda is very likeable. A nice performance, but as a whole, not all that memorable.


Felix Martin as Frollo is amusing, largely for the wrong reasons.

To be honest, instead of a conflicted Catholic priest, he seems to be channeling a campy version of Count Dracula, chewing the scenery left and right. A total Disney villain! It's just that the musical's script allows Frollo to be portrayed as something a little deeper than a cartoon bad guy. Martin's portrayal of the character is pretty much straight-up evil, and while that's entertaining to watch, I still long for more shades of gray. Surprisingly enough, though, his obsessive attraction to Esmeralda is not overstated... or especially noticeable, even. Remembering how the rest of the portrayal was like, it feels odd there was no movie-style sniffing of her hair whatsoever!

Luckily, Martin sings the part just right (the musical's whole score culminates in Frollo's solo Hellfire, so it would be a shame if he didn’t). And don't get me wrong - he's fun to watch. It's just that an approach like this gets old fast. Twice is quite enough for me.


Jens Janke's Clopin, the leader of the Romani camp and a showman at the Festival of Fools, doesn't really do much for me. In the beginning, he reminds me of Jekyll & Hyde's Spider - a stereotypical, angry pimp, that is (though, to be fair, I suppose the script and the direction are largely to blame about that). I wish his and Esmeralda's relationship had a bit more warmth to it, since they're after all working together and supposedly on the same side of things.

As a whole, Clopin's "master of ceremonies" persona doesn't feel all that charismatic or enchanting to me, it felt like Janke was aiming for over-the-top but didn’t quite reach it. I did start feeling sympathy for Clopin's "civilian" persona towards the end of my second performance's second act, though. And Janke does have an impressive falsetto!


Maximilian Mann's Phoebus, then, is a real sweetheart. Watching the movie, I never paid much attention to the captain-of-the-guard-turned-rebel. But watching the musical now, it turned out I really like the character, if he's performed like this. Mann is a great fit for the role. His Phoebus is well-rounded and three-dimensional - from a ladies' man to a war veteran, then from a dreamer to an agitator, he feels real all the way through.

Having such a likeable Phoebus makes you notice how the musical's Quasimodo-centric ending leaves the captain's fate in the air. I just want to know if he'll ever be okay again... Thank you, Maximilian Mann, for making me care about Phoebus this deeply!

I also want to give big shoutouts to the ensemble and ORSO - Choral Society Berlin's choir, as well as the orchestra conducted by Bernhard Volk. They all sound fantastic together. I was maybe the most impressed by the choir, I think the choral Entr'acte is now my favourite piece of music in the whole show.

The aftertaste


Overall, somehow, I feel this production is slightly less than the sum of its parts. This should hit me harder, feel more exciting. Many times, I felt oddly disconnected from the story.

Maybe it’s because I sat in the very back of the stalls both times and could hardly see any expressions. Maybe it's that both audiences I was a part of were surprisingly calm and quiet, and that affected the mood of the whole performace. Or maybe it's that the production's a replica and the direction would simply work better with the original cast and an American audience? Whatever the case, having seen the Danish production of the same musical, I know it can feel so much more engaging and exciting. The Berlin production is fine and beautiful, but hardly extraordinary.

Both nights, though, the last ten minutes hit the audience hard. Quasimodo's fate and the final chorus punched me in the gut, and I was not alone: suddenly the formerly quiet audience was on its feet and cheering.

Deep down, there's something very touching, very human about this story. I'd say it was well worth seeing both times.

Photos by Johan Persson © Disney

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Prince of Egypt

You know what? After their earth-shatteringly amazing production of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame the musical (two weeks to go and I'll finally see it again!), I didn't think the Danish Fredericia Teater could raise their own bar any higher.

Little did I know.

In April 2018, they're putting on the world premiere of Dreamworks' The Prince of Egypt the musical.


Diluckshan Jeyaratnam, who's going to play Moses, performing the song When You Believe (in the movie, Moses does not sing this one – but whatever, it's beautiful in any case)

The Prince of Egypt is a 1998 animated movie with music by Stephen Schwartz. It tells the story of Moses, from his childhood as the pharaoh's adopted son all the way to him receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Sounds like heavy stuff, and it is – and at the same time, it's a beautiful movie with a gorgeous musical score.

Perfect stage musical material, that is.

Technically, the Danish production won't be the first time The Prince of Egypt is performed onstage. In the US, there have been readings already (including one that was cancelled, allegedly because the controversy that surrounded its casting – namely that they chose mostly white actors to read a story set in Africa), and in October 2017, previews of the musical will be staged in California. But the official world premiere is going to take place in Denmark.

The full cast and creative team have yet to be announced, but we know the musical is going to be directed by Scott Schwartz (who also consulted Fredericia Teater's production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame – and yes, he's the son of composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz). The leading role of Moses is going to be played by Diluckshan Jeyaratnam, who's currenly playing Clopin in The Hunchback. Interestingly, there are going to be both English and Danish performances of the new musical.

All in all, I am hyped about this.

I was never a big Disney or Dreamworks kid myself. I liked The Sleeping Beauty and The Goofy Movie, and that's about it – and I don't think the latter counts as any huge Disney classic anyway. But after a childhood relatively free of Disney and the likes (no Little Mermaid, no Lion King, no Beauty and the Beast), around the age of 18, I fell in love with two traditionally animated movies. One was Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the other Dreamworks' The Prince of Egypt.

What are the odds musical adaptations of both movies have their European premieres in Denmark less than two years apart from each other, and that I'll get to see both!

Having seen how video screens with a 3D animated cathedral mesh seamlessly with traditional, physical set pieces in Fredericia Teater's Hunchback, having heard flawlessly mixed music surround me, I have especially high hopes for the technical aspect of The Prince of Egypt. The burning bush? The plagues? The crossing of the Red Sea? This will be good.

Not to mention the music and the emotional impact. The Prince of Egypt is a gorgeous movie, and I'm sure it's going to make an equally beautiful musical.

The story of Moses is millenia old. I imagine that thousands of years ago, people shared it with each other by campfire under a vast starry sky, a storyteller painting impressive pictures using words only.

In our modern times, we cannot really go back to that earlier way of telling ageless tales. But an impressive musical spectacle with hundreds of people in the audience feeling for the characters and sharing the experience... It's not the same, but somehow, I have a feeling it has the potential to touch the audience in a rather similar manner.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Kuinka jukebox-musikaali syntyy – haastattelussa käsikirjoittajat Satu Rasila ja Hanna Suutela

Jukebox-musikaalit! Nuo olemassa olevien kappaleiden ympärille rakennetut teokset, jotka ilahduttavat nostalgiannälkäisiä ja nostavat uuden musikaalimusiikin ystävien karvat pystyyn! Lontoossa vuonna 1999 ensi-iltansa saaneen, ABBAn musiikin ympärille rakentuneen Mamma Mian jälkeen genreltä ei ole voinut välttyä maailman musikaalinäyttämöillä eikä kotikoivun alla.

Itse vihaan ja rakastan jukeboxeja. Toisaalta minua tympii etenkin artistin elämäntarinan kertovien musikaalien ylitarjonta – on Kirkaa, Eino Gröniä, Vexi Salmea, Rauli Badding Somerjokea ja taivas tietää mitä vielä – ja lajityypin ylenmääräinen nostalgialla ratsastaminen. Toisaalta ensimmäinen livemusikaalini oli Mamma Mia!, viimeisin musikaalihurahdukseni kasaripläjäys Rock of Ages ja suursuosikkini Vampyyrien tanssikin koostuu suurimmaksi osaksi Jim Steinmanin vanhoista sävellyksistä.

Koska ihmisen tulee tuntea rakkainkin vihollisensa, pyysin Turun kaupunginteatterin dramaturgin Satu Rasilan ja Tampereen yliopiston teatterin ja draaman tutkimuksen professorin Hanna Suutelan jukebox-juttusille kanssani. He kertoivat minulle, miten vanhan musiikin ympärille rakennetaan uusi teos.

Veeti Kallio ja Reeta Vestman Kakola-musikaalissa. Kuva: Robert Seger

Turun kaupunginteatterissa dramaturgina työskentelevä Satu Rasila on kirjoittanut kolme jukebox-musikaalia. Turun kaupunginteatterin ja Linnateatterin yhdessä tuottama Kakola sai ensi-iltansa vuonna 2012, ja sitä seurasivat Turun kaupunginteatterin musikaalit Seili (2014) ja Tamara (2015).

Vankilamaailmaan sijoittunut Kakola rakentui Turkuun tavalla tai toisella liittyvien rock-biisien ympärille. Sata vuotta sitten Seilin saaren mielisairaalaan joutuneista naisista kertova Seili puolestaan pohjautui nykypäivän suomalaisten nuorten naismuusikoiden musiikkiin. Tamara kertoi oopperalaulaja Tamara Lundin elämästä tämän esittämien kappaleiden kautta.

Dingon musiikkiin perustuva Nahkatakkinen tyttö on teatterin ja draaman tutkimuksen professorin Hanna Suutelan debyytti näytelmäkirjailijana. Suutelan, Matti Suomelan ja Kari Jagtin yhteistyössä kirjoittama musikaali kertoo mysteerinomaisen tarinan lukiolaisporukasta, joka lähtee mökille viikonlopun viettoon ja joutuu siellä kohtaamaan jotakin, josta ei puhuta ääneen.

Vaskivuoren lukion tilaama Nahkatakkinen tyttö kantaesitettiin vuonna 2014. Siitä on tehty lukiolaisvoimin jo kuusi tuotantoa ympäri maata, viimeksi keväällä 2017 Riihimäen nuorisoteatterissa ja Lappeenrannassa lukioteatterin ja kaupunginteatterin yhteistuotantona.

”Vaskivuoren musiikkilukion johtaja Matti Suomela on serkkuni. Kukaan muu ei varmaan olisi soittanutkaan minulle projektista! Kolmanneksi käsikirjoitustiimiin pyydettiin ohjaaja Kari Jagt”, Suutela kertoo musikaalin synnystä.

”Matti halusi tehdä uuden tarinan kertovan Dingo-musikaalin. Tarinallinen inspiraatio oli hirmu nopea ja kirjoitin ensimmäisen luonnoksen päivässä, mutta juoneksi en olisi osannut sitä kehittää ilman lastenteatterin tekijänä kokeneen Karin apua.”

Satu Rasilalle oma musikaaliprojekti oli pitkäaikaisempi haave.

”Olen aina halunnut kirjoittaa musikaalin! Oman musikaalin kirjoittaminen ei kuitenkaan ollut itsestäänselvyys. Asenteet toki muuttuvat, mutta musikaaleihin on liittynyt ja liittyy yhä paljon sellaista ajatusmaailmaa, että ’oikeat näytelmäkirjailijat eivät tee niitä’", Rasila sanoo.

Molemmat mainitsevat maailmanlaajuisen jukebox-buumin aloittaneen Mamma Mian inspiroivaksi esikuvaksi.

”Se on nerokas! Pahinta jukebox-musikaalissa on, jos otetaan biisi ja kuvitellaan sen ympärille itsestäänselvä tarina. Mamma Mian tarina vie kauas biiseistä ja antaa luvan ajatella kappaleita uudella tavalla”, Rasila kehuu.

”Suhteeni jukebox-musikaaleihin on ollut epäkiinnostunut, mutta muutamaa ihailen: Mamma Miaa ja Tampereen työväen teatterin Vuonna 85 -manserock-musikaalia. Niissä molemmissa kerrotaan uusi tarina tiivistä tuotannosta poimituilla biiseillä. Sama ajatus oli Nahkatakkisessa tytössä”, Suutela sanoo.


Kuulostaa tanssikohtaukselta

 

Matkalla autiotaloon Lappeenrannan lukioteatterin ja kaupunginteatterin Nahkatakkisessa tytössä.
Keskellä Saara Östman Katan roolissa. Kuva: Ari Nakari

Jukebox-musikaalit jakautuvat uuden tarinan kertoviin ja artistin elämäntarinaan keskittyviin teoksiin. Molempia tyylilajeja kirjoittanut Satu Rasila kertoo, että tarina tulee aina ensin. Valmiina olevat kappaleet täytyy saada palvelemaan tarinaa, ei toisin päin.

”Kaikki rajoitteet ovat mielestäni inspiroivia. On herkullinen rajoite, että saa valmiit lyriikat kirjoitettua kohtaukseen siten, että kuulostaa siltä kuin ne olisi kirjoitettu sitä varten. Oli palkitsevaa saada osat sopimaan yhteen niin, etteivät reunat irvistä”, Rasila sanoo.

Rasila kertoo, että vain muutamat musikaalien kohtaukset kappaleineen olivat hänelle selkeitä alusta alkaen. Joihinkin kohtauksiin sopivia biisejä täytyi etsiä pitkään.

”Tein ensiksi sekä Kakolaan että Seiliin listat paristakymmenestä biisistä, jotka tulivat valitusta musiikkityylistä ensiksi mieleen. Niihin oli hyvä palata siinä vaiheessa, kun teosta oli työstetty vuosi ja yhä puuttui yksi biisi. Spotifysta oli paljon hyötyä. Monet kappaleet löysin tai hylkäsin nimen tai ensimmäisten sekuntien pohjalta.”

Nahkatakkisen tytön työryhmä listasi Dingon biisit, joiden ehdottomasti pitäisi olla mukana – ja ne, joiden todellakaan ei pitäisi. Hanna Suutela perusti musikaalin tarinan Orfeuksen ja Eurydiken myyttiin ja loi sen rakenteen amerikkalaisen musikaalitutkijan Richard Kislanin teorian pohjalta.

”Kislanin mukaan jokaisella musikaalin kappaleella tulee olla dramaturginen tarkoitus. Seurasimme kaavaa tosi tarkasti: minä olen, minä haluan, koominen kohtaus, tanssikohtaus... Jokaisen kappaleen, joka valikoitui mukaan, täytyi täyttää jokin amerikkalaisen musikaalin dramaturgisista funktioista”, Suutela sanoo.

”Suuri tanssikohtaus on vaikein, joten aloitin siitä. Ajattelin, että Juhannustanssit kuulostaa tanssikohtaukselta – ja siinähän olikin jo musikaalin tarina.”

Suutelan mukaan Nahkatakkisen tytön kirjoittamista helpotti se, että kaikki musikaalin kappaleet olivat samasta kynästä.

Neumannin lauluteksteissä on paljon autiotaloja, kirjoittamista, merta ja laivoja. Runokuvat ovat samoja. Sen takia biisit pystyy helposti kutomaan yhtenäiseen kertomukseen. Paljon vaikeampaa olisi tehdä musikaali vaikka kaiken 50-luvun musiikin pohjalta”, Suutela sanoo.

Satu Rasila kertoo kamppailleensa lähdemateriaalin vaihtelevien tyylilajien kanssa Tamara-musikaalia kirjoittaessaan.

”Tamara esitti oopperaa, operettia, iskelmää, musikaalimusiikkia... Kuka yksi näyttelijä pystyisi laulamaan näitä kaikkia, paitsi Tamara Lund itse? Musikaalissa Tamaraa eri elämänvaiheissa esitti kolme eri näyttelijää, ja roolitus sai lopulta vaikuttaa eri tarinalinjojen biisivalintoihin.”

Rasila toteaa, että hyvä sovitus voi nostaa jukebox-musikaalin musiikin täysin uudelle tasolle. Hän on tehnyt kaikki jukebox-musikaalinsa yhteistyössä kapellimestari Jussi Vahvaselän kanssa.

”Jussi sovitti kappaleet täysin uudestaan musikaalimusiikiksi isolle orkesterille. En ymmärrä musiikista mitään, joten kerroin biisin tunnelmasta ja Jussi alkoi soittaa – olisiko sovitus ehkä tännepäin?” Rasila hymyilee.

Suutela mainitsee, että kapellimestarin musiikillinen näkemys vei toisinaan Nahkatakkisen tytön kirjoitusprosessia yllättäviin suuntiin.

”Matti oli esimerkiksi miettinyt Pistoolisankarin sovituksen valmiiksi. Meidän piti sitten vain keksiä, ketkä kappaleen musikaalissa esittäisivät!”


Oikean ihmisen oikeaa elämää


Juha Hostikka ja Angelika Klas Alexandrun ja Tamaran rooleissa. Kuva: Otto-Ville Väätäinen

Satu Rasilan viimeisin jukebox-projekti on Turun kaupunginteatterissa syksyllä 2015 ensi-iltansa saanut Tamara, joka kertoi oopperalaulaja ja operettitähti Tamara Lundin elämäntarinan. Rasila kertoo kohdanneensa kirjoittaessaan omia ennakkoluulojaan.

”Minulla oli sisäinen vastustus taiteilijakuvamusikaaliin. Olin monessa paikassa huudellut, että se on halvin mahdollinen konsepti: katsotaan, kuka on myynyt eniten levyjä, ja tehdään hänestä musikaali”, Rasila sanoo.

”Oli kuitenkin hyvä joutua nielemään hattunsa ja katsomaan, voiko aiheelle todella tehdä mitään. Oikean ihmisen oikeaa elämää kun ei voi kirjoittaa uusiksi.”

Rasila kirjoitti Tamara-musikaalin Tamara Lundin Lohikäärmeen pahvikulissit -omaelämäkerran pohjalta. Jos Lund oli itse kertonut jostakin aiheesta kirjassaan, koki Rasilakin voivansa käsitellä asiaa näytelmätekstissä.

Hän kertoo, että vaikka toden ja tarun rajat hämärtyvätkin tekstissä, kyseessä on lähtökohtaisesti fiktiivinen tarina. Kyse on rajaamisesta: musikaali käsittelee esikuvansa elämää väistämättä kapean linssin läpi eikä pyri etsimään objektiivista totuutta.

”Musikaalissa laitetaan asioita katsojan kuviteltavaksi. Emmehän voi tietää, mitä ihminen on ajatellut. Mutta jos väittää, että ihminen on surrut rakastettunsa kuolemaa, ei se ole kovin kaukana todellisesta tunteesta. Tuleeko tositapahtumista fiktiota, jos kuvittelemme, miltä niiden kokijoista on tuntunut?”

Rasila sanoo pitävänsä arvossa sitä, että elämäkertateoksesta keskustellaan keskushenkilön läheisten kanssa.

”Minulle oli tärkeää saada projektille Tamaran lasten Maria Lundin ja Tero Tapalan siunaus.”

Rasila myös ohjasi Tamara-musikaalin. Hän kertoo, että jukebox-elämäkerran parissa työskenteleminen pehmensi hänen ennakkoluulojaan lajityyppiä kohtaan.

”En dissaa elämäkertamusikaaleja enää niin helposti. Uskon, että jokainen kirjoittaja hakee taiteilijakuvan kautta jonkinlaista yhteiskunnallista väitettä. Maailma peilautuu taiteilijoissa, ja on syynsä, miksi tietyntyyppiset taiteilijat nousevat pintaan tietyissä yhteiskunnallisissa taitekohdissa”, Rasila pohtii.

”On kyseessä sitten taiteilijakuvamusikaali tai mikä hyvänsä muu, suhtaudun siihen aina uutena taideteoksena.”


Nostalgialla vai ilman?

 

Kohtaus Seili-musikaalista. Kuva: Otto-Ville Väätäinen

Jukebox-musikaaleja mainostetaan usein kaikkien tuntemalla musiikilla tai rakastetulla keskushenkilöllä. Hanna Suutelan mielestä jukeboxia ei voi olla olemassa ilman nostalgiaa.

”Nahkatakkisen tytön nykypäivään sijoittuvassa tarinassa nostalgia ei tosin suuntaudu 80-luvulle vaan nuorten päähenkilöiden lapsuuteen”, hän lisää.

Elämäkertamusikaalien nostalgiassa piilee Suutelan mukaan sudenkuoppa.

”En itse haluaisi mennä katsomaan esitystä, joka on jo valmiiksi päättänyt, mistä minun pitää olla nostalginen. Jos nostalgia kohdistetaan tiettyyn tarkkaan ajanjaksoon, sieltähän nousevat mieleen myös huonot puolet: rasismi, sovinismi... Ottaisimmeko todella menneen ajan takaisin?”

Satu Rasila ei suhtaudu asiaan yhtä jyrkästi. Hänestä jukebox-musikaali voi toimia sekä nostalgialla että ilman.

”Kakolassa ja Seilissä biisit olivat niin voimakkaasti fiktiivisen tarinan palveluksessa, ettei nostalgialle jäänyt tilaa. Tamara taas oli varmasti nostalgiamusikaali. Mukana saattoi laulaa, ja yleisössä oli paljon ihmisiä, joiden oman elämän merkkipaalut osuivat yksiin Tamaran elämän merkkipaalujen kanssa”, Rasila sanoo.

Suutela huomauttaa, että nostalgiatripin lisäksi jukebox-musikaalit voivat rakentaa niissä käytetylle musiikille uutta kontekstia. Hän uskoo kuitenkin, että onnistunut jukebox-musikaali jättää tilaa katsojan omille mielikuville.

”Populaarimusiikkia käytetään omien tunteiden kuvittamiseen, joten kappaleista tulee jo valmiiksi eri ihmisille mieleen erilaisia asioita. Musikaalin tarinan ei pidä olla niin tiivis, ettei kappaleen voisi yhä kuvitella kertovan naapuriluokan ihanasta pojasta”, hän naurahtaa.

Molemmat käsikirjoittajat ovat yhtä mieltä siitä, että jukebox-musikaali ei ole lähtökohtaisesti sen huonompi tai parempi kuin mikään muukaan musikaali.

”Kokonaan uudet musikaalit ovat useammin parempia siksi, että ne on kirjoitettu teatteriksi. Mutta jukebox-musikaali voi toimia aivan yhtä hyvin, jos dramaturgia toimii. Lisäksi hyvä pop-musiikki pesee keskinkertaisen teatterimusiikin – toki siinä missä hyvä teatterimusiikki keskinkertaisen popin”, Suutela sanoo.

”Jukebox-musikaalit ovat vain yksi osa suurta genreä. Kaikenlaiset musikaalit voivat olla nerokkaita, tosi huonoja, kuluneita... On kuningasteoksia ja sitten niitä muita”, Rasila tiivistää.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Katse maailmalle, suomalainen musikaali!

Harvoinpa lukee aamun lehdestä tekstiä, josta on yhtäaikaisesti niin samaa ja eri mieltä kuin minä olin Laura Hallamaan Herätys, suomalainen musikaali! -kolumnista päivän Hesarissa (HS 21.6.2017, netissä eri otsikolla)!

Hallamaa kirjoittaa kolumnissaan suomalaisen musikaaliohjelmiston alennustilasta: klassikkomusikaalit ja artistielämäkerrat dominoivat esityskalentereita uuden suomalaisen musikaalin jäädessä sivuosaan. Vaikka ilmassa on muutosta, ei suomalaisesta uustuotannosta ole vielä syrjäyttämään Broadway-suosikkeja suurilta näyttämöiltä.

Mielestäni teksti on kirjoitettu aiheesta, mutta suomalaisen musikaaliohjelmiston seassa vuosia marinoituneena kovan linjan musikaalifanina minulla on asiaan muutama mielipide.


Ensimmäisenä tekstissä huomioni herätti klassikkomusikaalin määrittely.

Hallamaa sijoittaa Catsin samaan sarjaan West Side Storyn, Chicagon ja Viulunsoittajan katolla kanssa. Itse olen toista mieltä. Jos tulevan syksyn ohjelmisto lasketaan mukaan, on Suomessa nähty yhteensä 50 Viulunsoittaja katolla -ammattilaistuotantoa. Se tekee keskimäärin 0,98 uutta tuotantoa vuodessa sitten vuoden 1966 kantaesityksen. Mikään muu Broadway-klassikko ei yllä lähellekään näitä lukuja. Tampereen Teatterissa ensi-iltansa saava Suomen neljäs Cats on tässä vertailussa raikas ja yllättävä ohjelmistovalinta.

Lisäksi täytyy – vähän uudemman musikaalin ystävänä hampaita kiristellen, mutta silti – myöntää, että moni klassikko on klassikko syystä. Vaikka Viulunsoittajan jatkuva paluu ohjelmistoon tuntuukin näillä kierroksilla jo yleisön aliarvioimiselta, ei jokaista klassikkoa voida niputtaa osaksi samaa väsynyttä kokonaisuutta. West Side Story on musikaalimaailman Romeo ja Julia sekä kirjaimellisesti että kuvainnollisesti. Toteutusten laatu vaihtelee, mutta parhaat teokset eivät vanhene.

Klassikkojen lisäksi Hallamaa suomii tekstissään iskelmätähtien elämäntarinan kertovia jukebox-musikaaleja. Tästä olen täysin samaa mieltä (lajityyppiä voi tosin lähestyä eri näkökulmista – lisää tästä blogissani), menneiden vuosien iskelmäsuuruuksilla tuskin houkutellaan teattereihin uutta nuorta yleisöä. Mutta entä toisenlaiset, uuden tarinan kertovat jukebox-musikaalit? Samantapaisella reseptillä leivottiin esimerkiksi Tampereen Työväen Teatterin manserock-menestys Vuonna 85, jonka spin-off-jatko Mauno Peppone Extended pyörii teatterin ohjelmistossa yhä, 11 vuotta ensi-illan jälkeen.


"Siinä ne kaksi musikaalin alalajia, joihin suomalainen teatteri luottaa. Jotain puuttuu", Hallamaa toteaa Broadway-musikaaleista ja artistielämäkerroista. Täydennykseksi hän tarjoaa uusia suomalaisia musikaaleja.

Olen Hallamaan kanssa samaa mieltä siitä, että ohjelmistoihin mahtuisi enemmän kotimaisia uutuuksia. Mutta toisin kuin Hallamaa ehdottaa, mielestäni suomalaista tekoa oleva uusi musikaali ei suinkaan ole ketjun ainoa puuttuva lenkki. Hyvä teos kun on hyvä teos täysin kansallisuuteen katsomatta. Uuden suomalaisen musikaalin arvo ei ole ulkomaista musikaalia suurempi tai pienempi, jos teokset ovat taiteellisesti yhtä kunnianhimoiset.

Kehtaan väittää, että suomalainen musikaaliohjelmisto on suppeaa ja perinteisen angloamerikkalaista yksinkertaisesti siksi, että teattereissa ei tunneta genren uusia tuulia eikä musikaalien maailmaa West Endin ja Broadwayn ulkopuolella. Eurooppa on täynnä kiehtovien tekijöiden menestysteoksia, joista suomalainen yleisö voisi nauttia joko sellaisenaan tai sovitettuna – ne pitää vain löytää ja tuoda tänne tarjolle.

Toivoisinpa, että kaikki musikaalin tekoa suunnittelevat suomalaiset teatterinjohtajat voitaisiin tavanomaisten Lontoon ja New Yorkin opintoretkien lisäksi pakottaa vuosittain ainakin kahdelle matkalle Manner-Eurooppaan: tarkastamaan yhden Saksan suurkaupungin ja yhden pienen saksalaisen kaupunginteatterin musikaaliohjelmisto ja perehtymään pitkäksi viikonlopuksi Budapestin musikaalitarjontaan. Jatkokurssi ranskalaisen musikaalikiertueen katsomossa. Lisäksi kestotilaus vapaavalintaisesta saksalaisesta musikaalilehdestä (jos kieli ei suju, kuvienkin katsominen avartaa).


Tiivistäen: kyllä – suomalainen musikaaliohjelmisto tuntuu usein horrostavan, ja etenkin tulevan satavuotissyksyn perin perinteikäs musikaalitarjonta oikein ahdistaa modernin musikaalin fania. Mutta ei – ainoa ratkaisu ei ole kotimainen uutuustuotanto, eikä isojen klassikkojen siivoaminen ohjelmistoista ole itseisarvo.

Toivottavasti suomalaisten musikaalinäyttämöiden väsymystä elvytetään jatkossa yhtä lailla uusilla kotimaisilla teoksilla kuin Lontoon ja New Yorkin ulkopuolisen musikaalimaailman helmillä.


P.S. Suomen kaikkien aikojen esitetyin musiikkinäytelmä on vankasti kotimaista tekoa. Teuvo Pakkalan vuonna 1899 kantaesitetty Tukkijoella saa syksyllä Porin Teatterissa 143. ammattilaisensi-iltansa.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Valjean!

Despite my recent fangirling about the manga adaptation being better than pretty much any other Les Mis adaptation out there, let's make one thing clear: I still love Les Misérables the musical. And, luckily for me, there are going to be three interesting new productions of the musical in Northern Europe later this year.

To no one's suprise, I've already bought tickets to all of them, so let's take a little look at each.


Smålands Musik & Teater // premiere September 9, 2017


I've known about this since last Christmas, and I'm still getting butterflies in my stomach every time I think about this. I have been waiting for this production for over five years.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Åbo Svenska Teater's 2010–2012 production of Les Misérables means more to me than any other musical. I loved it more than anything and saw it over a dozen times, and right after the production closed, I started wishing that Alexander Lycke would one day reprise his role as Jean Valjean.

I've indeed been excited since last Christmas – or, more accurately, since Åbo Svenska Teater's last Christmas concert. It was a lovely December evening filled with holiday songs and musical tunes, with Alex as one of the solists. I and a couple of other musical fans stayed behind after the concert to say hi to him. When I thanked him for his beautiful rendition of Bring Him Home, he just went, all nonchalantly, you should come to Jönköping next year then!

Such fantastic news shouldn't be shared without some sort of a forewarning. I almost keeled over from pure happiness. I have felt such a quick and genuine rush of joy maybe three, four times in my life in total.

There are many fantastic portrayals of Jean Valjean out there, but as far as I know, no one sings the part better than Alex. And now, as if getting to hear him in the role again wouldn't be good enough, this production is also going to be a replica of the Wermland Opera production I adored that made Valjean more three-dimensional and human than any other version of this musical I've ever seen.

Gosh.

Listen to Alex's version of Bring Him Home from the ÅST production.


Folketeateret // premiere September 8, 2017


The cast of Folketeateret's Les Mis. Photo from their website.

This is exciting for a different reason: I've never been to Oslo before, so I'm super glad I finally have a good excuse to visit (or two, since I'll also be seeing the upcoming Norwegian production of The Book of Mormon that weekend).

I know next to nothing about this production and its cast, but I think that's just as good. It's a nice feeling to be seeing your favourite musical yet not quite knowing what you're going to get. Let's hope Norway will be good to us.


Teater Vanemuine // premiere November 25, 2017


This one is so interesting that I'm taking some friends with me... Seven of them, to be exact, and we're all going to see the premiere!

The reason the new Estonian production of Les Misérables is of interest to us Finnish fans is that it'll be directed by Finnish Samuel Harjanne. In Finland, Harjanne has performed in three different productions of Les Mis (first as Gavroche, then as assorted barricade boys including Enjolras). Having seen him onstage in various Les Mises almost 20 times, I'm sure it'll be really interesting to see how he'll direct the show.

The cast seems strong, too. There are alternates, so I don't yet know who we are going to see – but in any case, I'm glad to know my favourites from the recent Estonian production of The Phantom of the Opera, Koit Toome (a sweet Raoul and a fantastic Phantom) and Maria Listra (the most independent, strong Christine I've ever seen), will play the roles of Jean Valjean and Cosette. It's also nice to see Ele Millistfer returning to the role of Fantine after having seen her touching portrayal in the 2013 Finnish production.

Most of all, though, I'm just excited I'll get to travel to Tartu with so many friends to see the premiere of this production. No matter what, it's going to be a Les Mis road trip – and, really, a Les Mis autumn – to remember.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Manga Classics: Les Misérables

A while ago, when visiting Stockholm with a friend to watch Fun Home and The Book of Mormon, we stumbled across something hilarious in a local bookstore: a Pride and Prejudice manga. It was so over-the-top and ridiculous (Mr. Darcy casually sheds nearly all his clothing to show off his pecs during a proposal), I literally cannot remember the last time I laughed as hard.

Noticing the same publishing house had released a Les Misérables manga, I rushed to buy it, expecting another wild and hilarious ride.

Who knew Manga Classics: Les Misérables (story adaptation by Crystal S. Chan, art by SunNeko Lee, published by UDON Entertainment and Morpheus Publishing) would turn out to be one of the best adaptations of Les Mis I've ever encountered?

If you're unfamiliar with manga, just keep in mind that it's read from right to left.

The musical is the reason I love Les Misérables, so naturally, I kept comparing the two while reading the manga.

My first impression is that the manga is paced better than the musical. Fantine's story and Jean Valjean and Cosette's early relationship get the space they need, while barricade scenes are cut down. The focus stays on the four characters that have volumes of Victor Hugo's original novel named after them – Fantine, Cosette, Marius and Jean Valjean.

Overall, I'd say Valjean's struggles are a little easier to understand in comic format than as musical songs. At only 337 pages (down from Hugo's original ~1,500), I'm honestly amazed how thoroughly the manga explores its characters.

The Petit Gervais moment.

I suppose the style of the art may throw off some of us Western readers (Cosette's eyes are as gigantic as you'd expect), but personally, I adore SunNeko Lee's art – and I'm not even a manga fan. I think the character designs are fitting and the artwork is beautiful and detailed from start to finish.

I'm posting this page for no other reason than that I really, really like Javert holding out his hand to Jean Valjean.

The manga is intended at teenagers, so I was a little afraid it would gloss over the saddest parts of the story. Far from it. A couple of panels are actually too graphic for my tastes, but overall, it does a great, effective job portraying the awful things the characters go through. Fantine's and little  Cosette's fates are equally heartwrenching. The following two pages really stopped me on my tracks.

This is cruel.

And this... I'm not even going to post the previous page, it's seriously too awful to look at.

I also like the portrayal of Javert. The manga doesn't antagonise him, and while it doesn't delve too far into his mind, the characterisation is very book-accurate. I'm especially glad that Javert's extremely black-and-white view of the world is highlighted early on:

This manga gets Javert.

Something almost every adaptation of Les Misérables gets wrong is everything about Cosette.

Take the musical. Fantine sacrifices everything for her daughter, and Jean Valjean risks his life to save the man his adoptive daughter loves – yet their big solos don't even mention Cosette. And when it comes to the character herself... She has as little time onstage as humanly possible, she's a cute kid turned into princess ingenue and that's it.

Luckily, this manga is the opposite of that. Jean Valjean and Cosette's early relationship is given an especially big amount of space, and those pages are some of the best in the whole book.

I adore this.

I absolutely adore this.

(quiet sobbing)

Jean Valjean takes care of her! Becomes a father to her! It's incredible how this, the very thing at the heart of the novel, feels so fresh and new when reading the manga, since it's so overlooked in the musical. It's handled perfectly here (though, to be honest, the focus drifts off of these two during the Paris scenes).

"I cannot let Javert take me away from her," I'm not crying, you're crying.

I'm going to explode.

Marius is also portrayed well. He is the focal character of the Paris part of the story. He's surprisingly three-dimensional, idealistic but a little bigoted and selfish sometimes. At times, you feel just as frustrated and annoyed with him as you do reading the novel.

That's Marius Pontmercy, all right!

Marius and Cosette's love story is a bit sugary but still super cute.

"Hello..."

The barricade characters are glanced over with as little detail as possible, and personally, I think that's a good decision. Keeping them in very minor roles helps to keep the focus on Marius and Jean Valjean. This is almost all Les Amis character development we get:

I like Enjolras's design, and how they mercilessly mock him.

Then again, a single page of a comic can be worth a whole chapter in a book – or a full musical song. I think that's especially evident in Javert's suicide:

In two pages, this manga does a better job than any other adaptation of this scene.

The ending of Les Misérables is hopelessly melodramatic, no matter what... But this version did squeeze some tears out of me.

I love the artwork on the page on the left, and also every single thing about this.

Who's crying? I'm crying.

I don't know if you've figured it out yet, but I absolutely adore this manga.

There are a couple of out-of-context details (Marius finds the U.F. handcherchief but Ultime Fauchelevent is never mentioned, Enjolras dies hand in hand with some drunk that surfaces out of nowhere), but in general, Crystal S. Chan's script does a great job getting the story across in a way that's both accurate and easy to follow. It even includes some things most other adaptations omit, like Marius's backstory and the coffin trick Valjean uses to get out of the convent!

Seriously, of your teacher ever assigns you to read Les Mis and you want to take the easy way out, please read this manga instead of watching any of the other adaptations.

I'm not saying a good adaptation cannot take any liberties – despite all my griping, I obviously think the musical is a great adaptation too. But after 150 years of different variations of the story that have taken every liberty imaginable (and with a new, sexy BBC series in the works as we speak)... I'm just really glad to have a compact, contemporary and widely available adaptation that's reflects both Hugo's words and the spirit of his novel. The book is a very heavy read and thus not for everyone, so I think it's good to have a lighter yet accurate version of the story out there.

And now, to help us all dry our tears after those last pages, here's a little goodie from the end of the book to finish off this blog post:

The only time the prisoner number is mentioned in the manga. Somehow, I feel like this is a jab at the musical.

Pages scanned from Manga Classics: Les Misérables, art by SunNeko Lee. Find out more about Manga Classics.