Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Musical Year 2010

Maybe - as is the truth with most of this blog's content, I guess - I'm the only one actually interested in this. I'm just putting these up because I've figured out there might be someone out there who'd like to read this, and for that person I shan't keep a private musical diary but blast it all in the internet...
So. I'd like to list the shows I've seen this year, just for the sake of listing them.

I left for a holiday to NYC, and of course saw a couple of Broadway musicals:
In The Heights
- Did not like. Jet lag, maybe, but I don't think I would've really enjoyed this, no matter how awake. Some set changes at least, please, and maybe, well, some more interesting music...
A Little Night Music
- Thanks to jet lag, I hardly understood any of this. But buying the CD, I've grown to really like this show. Can't wait to see the Finnish version next year! And hey, I saw Angela Lansbury live. Nice.
- Simply put, great.
West Side Story
- Again, great. I love the cast recording!

Mary Poppins in Helsinki City Theatre
- I've never left any theatre smiling as widely as this time. Silly, cheesy and really, really good!

Titanic in Ypäjä Music Theatre. Closing night!
- Good production. Actually, awesome production, remembering it's an amateur theatre. Boring musical though. Titanic is one of the biggest disasters out there, and that's all the horror, chaos and feeling you can squeeze out of it?
Wicked in Helsinki City Theatre. Premiere!
- A nice show. The production maybe lacks something (well, at least sense at some points), but almost all actors are just amazing.

Chicago in Tampereen Työväen Teatteri.
- Maybe the worst show I've seen the whole year. I'd rather put the DVD in the player and watch it instead of paying a lot of money seeing something that tries to be an exact copy of the movie...

Les Misérables in Turku Swedish Theatre.
- In short, because I'm certain my lenghty review tires even the biggest fan out there: amazing.
Rebecca in Kouvola City Theatre.
- Very good. Actually surprisingly good for such a small theatre. I liked this a lot!

Les Misérables in Turku Swedish Theatre. Again.
- Even more amazing than the previous time. Marks the eleventh and final musical for me this year.

Going to see in 2011...
La Boheme, Finnish National Opera (oh well, it's an opera, but it's close enough)
Next to Normal, Helsinki City Theatre
West Side Story, Pyynikkisali in Tampere
Les Misérables, Turku Swedish Theatre. Again!
A Little Night Music, Turku City Theatre
and also, though I haven't bought the tickets yet...
Wicked, Helsinki City Theatre, again
RENT, Vaahterasali, Lahti (note to self: tickets can be bought from 1.1.2011. Get the best seats!)
Tanz der Vampire, Seinäjoki City Theatre

Friday, December 17, 2010

Les Mis Album Comparison III

Both a Thénardier-off and putting some Javerts into order today!

Master of the House
London 1985
Alun Armstrong as Thénardier, Sue Jane Tanner as Mme T.
The instrumentals start pretty meekly. Armstong's okay to listen to, and the costumers' voices in the background add some live feeling into the recording. The whole thing lacks a little speed, though - the chorus is big and loud, but the tempo of the whole song is a little slow.
Is that Patti LuPone laughing just before Mme Thénardier's part? It sounds just like her on the Sweeney Todd 2005 CD...
Tanner isn't bad neither, you could imagine Mme Thénardier sounding like this. Her "don't make me laugh" is a bit too exaggerated for my taste, though.
A good "standard" version of the song - nothing especially bad, if not so much anything especially awesome, neither.
3 points

Vienna 1988
Franz Csencsits as Thénardier, Susanne Altschul as Mme T.

Little meek orchestra part gives fast way to the singing, accompanied with an echo-y horn. Csencsits is nice to listen to too, and his voice has some emotion going, changing between excited, nice and evil-sounding.
The chorus sounds a little muddy, maybe some bad mixing.
Csencsits' "liver of a cat" and so forth sounds a little whisper-y, like he's sharing a secret with the audience. But now it's chorus time again, and to me this sounds like someone has put a huge lot of people into a tiny room and their voice doesn't quite fit in...
Altschul sounds pretty bitter and mocking, and her audience is heard symphatising with screams and laughter. Her performance is great, the final part almost made me laugh.
4 points

Paris 1991
Laurent Gendron as Thénardier, Marie-France Roussel as Mme T.
Gendron sounds okay too, but he's not as nice to listen to as some - I know it's a role where acting means more, but in a CD comparison... A little bit meaner than the previous ones, I'd say. The orchestration's pretty small, and somehow leaves me wishing for more. The chorus sounds pretty good, though.
Gendron seems to keep this "I'm mean and you can't trust me" tone going on for the whole song...
Multiple "shhh"s before Mme T. enters. She's not bad either, but I've heard better.
2 points

Danish 1992
Per Pallesen as Thénardier, Maria Stenz as Mme T.
Afraid already...
This begins bigger, with the little tune familiar from 10th Ann. concert and with the part with Thénardier and customers talking before the actual song beginning. What's the point of even recording this, especially if you don't record one of your main character's biggest songs? And it seems this part keeps going on forever... Pallesen has a pretty Thénardier-sounding voice from the first minute, though, at least in my opinion.
Ahh, to the real song! Haha, Pallesen is great, laughing meanly in between the lyrics! Just listening to him makes me smile, and I bet he did great justice to his part as the comic relief! And the chorus has such energy I almost feel like dancing!
I like how someone goes "shh" to silence the customers before Mme T. starts. And after she has sung her first line ("I used to dream that I would meet a prince...") Thénardier is heard going "awww", pretty much like saying "you got to be kidding me...", and he keeps saying "mm-hmm" to everything his wife accuses him of, just as to annoy her even more - before it gets to the "not much there" part, where his reaction sounds more like "hey, that was personal!" I actually laughed out loud.
This is awesome. And Stenz sounds very good for the role, too!
Danish Les Mis cast recording, congratulate yourself already. Whatever lies ahead, I think you've pretty much assured the seven points are yours.
7 points - told you so.

10th Ann. 1995
Alun Armstrong as Thénardier, Jenny Galloway as Mme T.
A bigger beginning, orchestra-wise, and a better beginning, Thénardier-wise, from the London CD where Armstrong also sings the song. I think he's gotten a lot better during the ten years between the recordings. In the beginning he sounds like a nice guy going out about how honest he is and such...
The chorus and the huge orchestra, as usual, sound great and make justice to this song.
Especially with this case, though, you remember that visuals are more than a half of this song - just remembering how hilarious Armstrong's performance on the DVD is makes me want to give him more points, even though you can't really hear it on the CD.
I love how audience gets wild just seeing Mme T. And Galloway is great, the best of the Mme Ts so far. Especially the "not much there" part, which she whispers. No wonder everybody's laughing! And I love how the audience just explodes into cheers at the end!
6 points

Dutch 2008
Carlo Boszhard as Thénardier, Marjolein Algera as Mme T.
No preludes here, but a nice big orchestration going on in the background or Boszhard, whose hoarse but pretty nice voice fits the character and whose energy is audible on the CD. He also laughs between some of the verses, which always makes me smile. And the chorus is not bad either.
Something about this song tells me Boszhard was just great to see live!
Mme T. enters, starts with a soft voice and changes her tone to make her audience laugh, getting louder as the song goes. Not bad at all! The final chorus sounds especially good.
5 points

Live! 2010
Ashley Artus as Thénardier, Lynne Wilmot as Mme T.
This is another of those CDs that have kept the conversation in the beginning of the song. I bet it's shorter than on the Danish CD, though, which is good.
Artus is somehow the Thénardier that's the hardest to listen to, his voice's too hoarse. Of course, the acting matters more, but again, this is a CD comparison... He has a funny accent, though, and this must be the happiest batch of customers laughing in the background... Even though the chorus sounds a bit messy, like someone's singing to a bit different beat and there's a little too much talk in the background. Wait, what, did I just hear someone throwing up? It sounded just like that, eww...
The live really comes through here, with the sounds from the props and whatnot. The orchestration's good, but that much background noise can distract you...
Enter Mme T. Wilmot isn't as big pain to listen to as Artus, but she's not the best either. A little too much screaming.
1 point

London 1985
Roger Allam as Javert.
The beginning has more violins than I remembered. And Allam has a gorgeous voice, very Javert-ish. Shivers are almost running down my spine.
And I think the calm, lovely orchestration does the song great justice. It gets big when it has to and keeps quiet when required, and sounds beautiful all the way.
The ending's a bit different than on the other CDs, he doesn't swear anything by any stars but just ends with "keeping watch in the night." I talked about this in deviantART with a friend, and I sort of agree with her - this ending fits the character better. But I still miss the big note.
It might get better than this, but not really much!
6.5 points

Vienna 1988
Norbert Lamla as Javert.
Not a bad beginning, even though I miss the violins from the previous CD. Lamla has a great voice too, but the orchestra almost overpowers him at some points - but then it gets back to quiet in such a lovely little translation I can't help adoring the instrumentals of this track. Even though that drum-thing is too much.
Lamla's good, but not as good as some. Still, if I had seen this live I surely wouldn't feel disappointed.
Hmm, a very mixed orchestration here...
4 points

Paris 1991
Partick Rocca as Javert.
The orchestration stars beautifully and peacefully.
But Rocca has definitely too much vibrato for the role. So much the song is almost painful to listen to. Some is okay, but this amount... Um. He'd be very Javert-ish if he could keep a note vibrato-less for more than half of a second... And that odd emphasis on "l'enfer" is a little, well, odd to me.
1 point

Danish 1992
Claus Kofod as Javert.
This voice doesn't fit the image I've got of Javert. He sounds somehow too much, I don't know, Santa Claus-ish to be the almost unfeeling, strict inspector we know. And hey, please, CD people: don't make your singers compete against your orchestra! Try to find a balance, will you!
Not to say Kofod would be bad, no, he has a good voice. It's just a voice I don't think quite fits the character, at least my vision of him.
2 points

10th Ann. 1995
Philip Quast as Javert.
The beginning is just beautiful with the harp. And when the song begins... I love Quast's voice. Still, after countless times of listening to this song, it manages to amaze me. Sure, there's some vibrato here too, but not so much to make this uncomfortable to listen to, as is the case with Paris CD.
I'm a little torn apart here, though - I love, love Quast's voice, but somehow Allam's fits my mental image of Javert better. This'll be a hard choice...
6.5 points - Impossible to decide. Call me a loser, but I'm dividing the first place.

Dutch 2008
Wim van den Driessche as Javert.
I'm torn apart here too - I'm not quite sure if I like van den Driessche or not. Somehow I do, he sounds good... But somehow this just doesn't make me think of Javert. I like how the orchestra plays some darker, deeper tones on the later part of the song, though.
Even though I usually love listening to Dutch, I think something about this translation is a bit disruptive. Too much hard consonants or something makes especially the ending a little uneasy to listen to.
3 points

Live! 2010
Earl Carpenter as Javert. I guess I can't give this CD any more bonus points for having seen him live...
The beginning's strings are a bit too shrill to me. But then again, Carpenter's voice is pretty much the voice I imagine Javert would have, so that doesn't matter much.
I don't know whether to be amused, confused or just happy about the emphasis Carpenter puts on the word "order." But it's definitely disturbing that the instrumentals lack some warmth some others have. This seems like a very "cold" moment to me, when I think it should be the moment that conveys the audience Javert is not actually a bad guy...
The only CD to have Gavroche's part, by the way!
5 points

So, today's ranking looks like...
London 1985: 18 + 3 + 6.5 = 27.5
Vienna 1988: 9.5 + 4 + 4 = 17.5
Paris 1991: 13 + 2 + 1 = 16 
Denmark 1992: 6.5 + 7 + 2 = 15.5
10th Ann. 1995: 24 + 6 + 6.5 = 36.5
Dutch 2008: 22 + 5 + 3 = 30
Live! 2010: 19 + 1 + 5 = 25

And with bonus points (none given this round, though):
#1: 10th Ann. 1995: 36.5+
#2: Dutch 2008: 30+
#3: London 1985: 27.5+
#4: Live! 2010: 25++
#5: Vienna 1988: 17.5+
#6: Paris 1991: 16+
#7: Denmark 1992: 15.5---

Way to go, Denmark! You'll reach Paris soon!
And if you've wondered, four bonus points make one point and four minus points take one point away. I'll count them in the final post of this series.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Les Mis Album Comparison Part II

I Dreamed a Dream time. Eek!

I Dreamed a Dream
London 1985
Patti LuPone as Fantine.
The song has a lovely, sad, peaceful quality from the first moment.
LuPone sings really beautifully. The orchestrations back up nicely and softly. Oddly enough though, LuPone's voice sounds a little, just a little, hoarse during some of the higher notes in the first half of the song. Otherwise she sounds great. I like how the singing part gets bigger but the orchestra doesn't get over-the-top with it - it gets bigger but not too big. Lovely.
5 points

Vienna 1988
Begins a little more loudly than the previous one, and the instrumental has an odd little pause before Sona MacDonald starts singing. She sings pretty quietly and a little hoarsely at first, but gets lovely during the bigger notes. If this hasn't been such, now this gets completely subjective: I think I prefer LuPone's voice to MacDonald's.
Not to say MacDonald's bad, though - she's great too.
4 points

Paris 1991
Not any dramatic orchestration changes. If I know my French (which I do, really badly), it seems to me Fantine begins her song talking directly to God.
This Fantine, Louise Pitre, has a little more vibretto than the previous two, which I'm not that sure I like. But she's not bad neither - it'll be really difficult putting these women's performances into an order, because I think the ones so far have been almost as good, and because the orchestrations are pretty much the same they won't help me decide. Expect for maybe that this one has some more shrill string sounds.
3 points

Danish 1992
Ah, my most hated album so far! Ann-Mari Max Hansen, save the day, will you?
The same problem that everybody has on this CD seems to be present here too: the beginning of the singing part is almost too quiet.
Maybe Danish just isn't the ideal language to sing this in, since I think some of the moments sound odd... But it's not Hansen's fault - even though she mightn't be as good as (in my opinion of course) the previous three, she still sings very nicely. Maybe a little less vibrato would be sweet. Oh wait, did her voice just crack the tiniest bit...
The orchestrations go too big and Hansen's voice almost drowns for a moment. More evidence to suggest the mixing is this album's biggest problem.
2 points

10th Ann. 1995
Ruthie Henshall's turn to shine as Fantine. She has quite a different tone from everybody else so far, but not in a bad way - she sounds great and hits the big notes maybe the most nicely of the Fantines so far. I'm almost getting shivers here. The orchestra's very nice and big too, as espected.
And Henshall is the first one to sound really hurt, I think - in the end her voice is just oozing with bitterness.
Added claps in the end for added this-was-an-awesome-song feeling!
7 points

Dutch 2008
With a louder orchestra and Nurlaila Karim.
Again, time to listen to the lovely Dutch pronounciation, which is almost enough to get me into a good mood. Am I weird or what. But Karim sounds very lovely too, and I think she hits especially the low notes beautifully.
I'm running out of things to say here, because I think all the examples of I Dreamed a Dream have been pretty good so far (if you don't count the Danish mixing). Oh, now this gets big, louder than the ones before... Another very hurt-sounding Fantine. Great.
6 points

Live! 2010
No intro at all, a little minus for that. And an angry Fantine, Madalena Alberto.
This has a bit different feeling than the others - slightly more rushed, maybe, and definitely more angry. I'm not sure I like the change. The original sad, longing feeling is more to my liking. Also, weird emphasis on odd parts, like "autumn." The orchestration is almost too big, the silent sadness has been lost...
1 point

I'd love to rate Lovely Ladies, but the Danish one has helpfully removed that one too. But may I give some bonus points?
+ for seven days at sea to London 1985 and to 10th Ann. 1995.
+ for the creepiest laughing sailors ever to Vienna 1988.

Castle on a Cloud
You know what? No matter how good the girl singing is, I absolutely hate this song. I don't get how every CD has it, but I do think my ears might explode listening to it seven times in a row - and I know some of these kids even aren't that good.
Dear Danish CD, I almost want to give you a big fat minus just for actually including this song, but I don't think that would be quite fair.

London 1985
Zoe Hart can keep a tune, she sounds pretty much as good as this song gets.
7 points

Vienna 1988
Very clear orchestrations, not so good little Cosette - Leni Tanzer. She's a little hoarse, even though if she doesn't actually miss the notes, which I've also heard happening.
2 points

Paris 1991
This is, instead of a castle, about a doll in the shop-window. Just like the book, a plus for that! Aurelie Lebarbe ("Thebeard"?) isn't especially good, though. A little confusing how this ends in a mention of Père Noël, though - did he even exist yet?
+ for the lyrics referring to the book
2 points

Danish 1992
Back to the castle in the heavens above imaginary, and with a lot longer intro than usual. Yes, Danish CD! Take all out of the only song you should've cut, will you!
Rose Maria Kroner is maybe the worst yet - sorry. She sounds almost boy-like at points. Goodness, when will this be over...
2 points - two points for three little Cosettes, because thinking about it, these three are all equally bad.

10th Ann. 1995
Hannah Chick as little Cosette. She's one of the better ones, actually pretty nice to listen to. Points for this girl not messing the song when that odd bang happens in the background!
6 points

Dutch 2008
Tara Hetharia is, in a way, the best yet. A pretty voice and some energy to the singing. Okay, it's not canon. Cosette is a badly beaten little kid who probably feels exhausted from all that work, but somehow a little more energy makes the song nicer to listen to.
5 points

Live! 2010
Samara Clarke gets to finish this batch of sweetness. And is she sweet. She's the youngest-sounding, and somehow a little annoying.
4 points

So how's the ranking now?
London 1985: 6 + 5 + 7 = 18  
Vienna 1988: 3.5 + 4 + 2 = 9.5  
Paris 1991: 8 + 3 + 2 = 13  
Denmark 1992: 2.5 + 2 + 2 = 6.5
10th Ann. 1995: 11 + 7 + 6 = 24  
Dutch 2008: 11 + 6 + 5 = 22
Live! 2010: 14 + 1 + 4 = 19

And with bonus points it looks like...
#1: 10th Ann. 1995: 24+
#2: Dutch 2008: 22+
#3: Live! 2010: 19++
#4: London 1985: 18+
#5: Paris 1991: 13+
#6: Vienna 1988: 9.5+
#7: Denmark 1992: 6.5---

Denmark, are you even trying? Can't wait to see where this'll end!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Les Misérables Album Comparison Part I

Somehow it greatly amuses some of my friends that I own eight different recordings of Les Misérables and am always searching for more. It seems some of them simply can't understand the concept of having so many versions of the same songs, and mostly in languages I don't understand.
But to me, and I guess other fans too, the albums are so different! Each has its own unique feeling, its weak and strong points.
And because it seems I'm not already too busy with school, art and stuff, and because I know nothing about music terms whatsoever, I've decided to do a little comparison of seven of my albums: London 1985, Vienna 1988 (I guess, since the CD's my friend's and I burned it in a hurry lately, so I only wrote "Germany" on it), Paris 1991, Danmark 1992, Dream Cast in Concert 1995, Dutch 2008 and Live! 2010. Still trying to find a Swedish one! Let's see if listening the same song seven times in a row again and again and again finally cures me of this obsession...
I'm only going to include songs all of the albums have, and that's why I'm not rating anything from the concept album - too different. Some have almost the full score, but the Danish one, for example, only has 16 tracks. The songs will be given points from one to seven - seven to the best and one to the worst, of course. Besides that, the songs can get plus points for really awesome moments and minus for unexplained moments of horror, as can the whole albums.

Let's start from the very beginning!

Overture/Work Song/Prologue:
(to the point before Valjean's "and now I know how freedom feels...", because that's the most these CDs have in common)
London 1985
This version begins rather less dramatically than some others. The instrumental part of the beginning isn't as huge as it will be on some of the later recordings, and the convicts don't really sound that tough, neither - depressed would be a better word, though when we get to the solos there are more emotional moments, and these men have great voices.
The arrangements sound, to my uneducated ear, a little too electronic.
Roger Allam's Javert sounds very good from the first minute, as does Colm Wilkinson's Valjean. Javert's "no!" is surprisingly annoyed here, even to the point where it can make people giggle.
The tempo is a little slow, so some of Valjean's and Javert's conversation fails to sound like an actual discussion at some points.
No fadeout, just directly into Valjean's arrest scene.
3 stars

Vienna 1988
More dramatic than the London one from the first minute, with the grand notes nowadays associated with the beginning of Les Mis. Surprisingly short instrumental part and "humming" part, with a little angrier convicts.
But wait! No convict solos! Just directly from the "Look down! Look down!" part to Javert's first line! A big minus, Vienna, a big minus. Way to start this thing off.
An angry Javert (Norbert Lamla) with a great big "NEEEIN" yelled right on top of Valjean's (Reinhard Brussmann) line.
Thanks to Javert starting to say his lines almost before Valjean has stopped, this already sounds a lot more like conversation.
Fadeout with the convicts - oddly enough, you'd think they'd cut that out too.
1.5 stars

Paris 1991
A little less dramatic beginning than on the Wien CD, maybe the orchestra is a little smaller. There's an odd change of the track in the middle of Overture - I was quite surprised when I noticed I had left suffle on and it switched to West Side Story's Dance at the Gym in the middle...
These are some angry prisoners, singing "UH-HUH" angrily instead of some depressed humming! And the solos have a lot of emotions in them. Mostly anger. They one who we won't see there for dust when he gets free has a quite bit higher voice than the others.
Javert (Patrick Rocca) has quite a lot of vibrato going on. The tempo's quite good, and the song ends with the normal fadeout with the convicts.
4 stars

Denmark 1992
The instrumental beginning is a little bit grander than the Paris one. The convicts' voices have been mixed too down at the beginning, you can hardly hear their chorus - but since it gets louder. I guess someone tried to go for an artistic feeling here, failing.
Are these some meek convicts, by the way... Maybe they've been beat too harshly in the jail, but they're filled with much more quiet depression than even the London 1985 fellows, except for the last one, who at least tries to make some noise.
This Javert (Claus Kofod) has a little bit higher voice than the previous ones, and I remember that something about his "ej" made me laugh the first time I heard it. Danish sounds quite weird sung (or spoken, actually. But that's just my opinion). Especially the way Javert says is name. Ja-veirt.
Fadeout with the depressed convicts.
1.5 stars (sharing the last spot with Vienna. I can't decide which one is worse.)

10th Anniversary 1995
The beginning, after the clapping, is very grand with the huge orchestra, definitely the best-sounding yet. And these convicts have some feeling - even though it always amuses me when one of them accidentally continues to go "uh-huh" when the others switch to "look down" one verse earlier than usually.
Oo, dramatic drums!
Philip Quast as Javert, Colm Wilkinson as Valjean. Here it takes Javert the longest time to figure out it doesn't mean Valjean is free, maybe long enough to have a comedic effect the moment surely shouldn't have... Javert and Valjean parts have a little less feeling of actual conversation than some others, maybe, but they're pretty good.
5 stars

Dutch 2008
Almost as grand a beginning as the 10th Anniversary. And this has my favourite new bit of the score, a little extra: the short violin (or some instrument like that) tune on top of the Overture (can't explain better than "the one that goes du-du-du-du-du-du", sorry). Anyways, I always miss that when I don't hear it on the other ones!
These are some seriously angry convicts, too! I guess the Dutch language has some angry-sounding quality with all those strong consonants, so that helps a bit, but these guys aren't phlegmatic in any way!
Maybe out of all these languages, I enjoy listening to Dutch the most. And here, besides sounding cool, Valjean (René van Kooten) surprises: he's the first Valjean to answer really angrily to Javert (Wim van den Driessche)! Man, these guys here are mad, and the grand orchestration helps to get the point across. His name is Jean Valjean! Totally!
Fading out a little angrily.
+ for the awesome-sounding violin chord.
6 stars

Live! 2010
It adds to the mood to hear people scream when the first notes get played. And are these notes played big, I guess it just gets grander all the time. Huge drums and people yelling during the instrumental part! Some energy! The violin (expect I guess it's cello or something now) tune is there, but it's mixed pretty quiet.
Are these the angriest convicts yet? They just get madder and madder, I'd so look down if these guys told me to! The solos match the grandeur of the orchestration and the fastened tempo.
Earl Carpenter was the first Javert I saw! Oo, it's so great to have a CD with him! His "no" sounds a little, I don't know, "why I have to listen to these idiots every day"-ish. John Owen-Jones is quite angry-sounding as Valjean, but then again, he's against a pretty angry-sounding Javert.
A massive fadeout with angry drums and angry men.
+ for the huge energy. If you could dance to this, you would.
+ for having seen one of the performers live.
7 stars

Valjean's Soliloquy
Thanks for sabotaging this, Danish cast album. No Soliloquy? Instead I would have to settle analysing the Bishop's song, since oddly enough every CD has that?
I don't think so. Instead, I'd like to ask: Danish cast album, what is wrong with you?
--- to the Danish cast album.

At The End of the Day
London 1985
The instrumental start of this is pretty much the same as the start of Overture on this CD, if a little more quiet. It cheers up a bit, though, even if the ensemble could use a little bit more emotion than this. The hunger in the land etc. part sounds good, though.
I've always hated the line which mentions "bum." Who talks like that?
A pretty bitchy-sounding factory girl. And an annoying cut, since Fantine doesn't get the change to answer her. Not nice! Colm Wilkinson sings-a-little-like-this.
We get to the end of the song nicely, and the foreman, thank goodness, doesn't overact. I don't get the foremen who scream "ON YOUR WAAAAAAY", you can get the point across a little lighter too...
3 stars

Vienna 1988
A quite big beginning, fast and hectic with all sorts of drums and thingies. Minus for a very synthecized part just before the singing starts.
A nice-sounding ensemble - except for that nothing for nothing guy, who can't follow the beat to sing the six words or so he has to sing. This does the same cut as the London one, Fantine (Sona MacDonald) gets no change to defend herself against the factory girl, who sounds pretty mean, and whose voice almost drowns under the big orchestrations at one point.
A little too much echo for my taste at the female ensemble part. The foreman keeps his anger under control, good job!
2 stars (it was the hardest choice between this and London, but Vienna loses this time. Only by a little, mind you!)

Paris 1991
More horns in the beginning, but when it gets faster the instrumentals get underwhelming. I like the strings, though.
A very good-sounding counterpoint part, a good, solid ensemble.
The women gossiping about Fantine (Louise Pitre) sound mysteriously angry when talking about her.
For the first time so far Fantine gets to say something to the factory girl, and the fight is accompanied by yells and whistles of the other workers. And the foreman sure is angry, as is the factory girl. Eek.
The track ends with an unespectedly quiet but effective "non ma belle, c'est fini."
4 stars

Danish 1992
Is this a musical drama or a Christmas carol? Easy on the bells! The very slow tempo of the first instrumental part and the fastness of the other actually contrast each other nicely.
More muddy and quiet ensemble work, as previously heard on the Work Song. I'm starting to believe it might be the mixer's fault, since when you listen closely I think these guys aren't worse than the French ones, for example.
Electric guitars before the women start to gossip. Uh, um, that just didn't fit.
Weird echo during the factory girl's part. And everything has been recorded, no more weird cuts (but that doesn't justify cutting Valjean's Soliloquy, though. And I know you've got Javert's Arrival recorded, Danish CD. What is wrong with you??).
The ensemble gets better-sounding towards the end. The foreman is so pissed he almost chokes on his final words.
1 star

10th Ann. 1995
Not unespected to have the biggest instrumental part yet. Refreshingly this one has cut the slower part from the very beginning and starts the song with a big tempo and a big choir. So, not surprisingly, this sounds the best yet.
Did I just hear "butt" instead of "bum"? I surely hope so!
That one woman sounds a lot like Angela Lansbury, but I suppose it isn't her.
The Fantine-factory girl exhange has the most feeling yet. The foreman sounds bored at life in general, somehow. The ensemble and the huge orchestra sound gooood together.
This is the confusing, yelling foreman. I get he's mad, but I still think that's exaggerating...
6 stars

Dutch 2008
Begins strongly and loudly, with the slow part and then the fast part as usually. The instrumentals sound almost cacophonic at points, and the ensemble is great.
The factory girl sounds somehow the nastiest yet, enjoying Fantine's poor fortune and really blaming her for everything. Fantine (Nurlaila Karim) sounds properly desperate, too.
There's some excitement strings in the background when foreman sings the final lines, and kicks Fantine out with about the right amount of angriness.
An overall enjoyable performance.
5 stars

Live! 2010
And the orchestra, not to mention the audience, explodes! Yay! The song begins! Make noise!
Miscellaneous drums, maybe the clearest-sounding ensemble of all.
If the "bum" was gone, it's back now. Meh. But one of the guys singing about kids back at home has a lovely accent, and the gossiping ladies are maybe the best so far. I also like the live quality, just little sounds, heys and ouchs and laughs, make it somehow, well, more lively.
A shrill, mean factory girl, and a proper-sounding fight with all the screams.
Dramatic drums, a slightly messy singing - there's some yelling in the background where shouldn't be any.
A good, believable "on your way"!
7 stars

Now, let's see the points so far!
London 1985: 3 + 3 = 6
Vienna 1988: 1.5 + 2 = 3.5
Paris 1991: 4 + 4 = 8
Denmark 1992: 1.5 + 1 = 2.5
10th Ann. 1995: 5 + 6 = 11
Dutch 2008: 6 + 5 = 11
Live! 2010: 7 + 7 = 14

Adding the plus and minus bonus points and arranging...
Live! 2010 is the first with 14++
Dutch 2008 places second with 11+
10th Ann. 1995 is third with 11
Paris 1991 is fourth with 8
London 1985 places fifth with 6
Vienna 1988 is sixth with 3.5
Denmark 1992 is seventh with 2.5---

Denmark, you're about my favourite country in the whole world. I love visiting.
So, for the sake of my happy holiday memories, try to get better next time when we'll review a big load of Fantines!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The People Sing!

I got my Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert DVD a couple of days ago.
A really short review: I loved it.
A little longer review: I loved it, but...

I believe it's best to talk about the bad things first.
I'll try to keep this short, because I admit the rant about Finnish/Swedish Les Misérables went on about three meters longer than anyone cares to read...

Nick Jonas.
I'm certain he's a really sweet guy and probably does nice music with his band, if you like that kind of stuff. And he's the same age as I am. I've nothing against him.
But I have everything against the person who decided he was the right Marius for this concert.
I mean, his voice just didn't hold. He sounded ridiculous next to Ramin Karimloo's great strong voice, and when singing duets with the girls his voice was overpowered all the time, too. On top of this he had the same suffering expression the whole time. Kind of an "I know I'm failing, please don't beat me!" expression...

I wasn't that keen on Katie Hall as Cosette, neither.
She sounds really sweet, and she's lovely on the 2010 CD. But watching her performance I felt something was missing. She was not exactly bad, but I thought she could've been even better. Especially when it came to Marius and Cosette scenes... They seemed like two kids lost in this wild whirlpool of events, and not in a good way. To me, it felt like these two had a little more chemistry than two a planks of wood placed next to each other.
But maybe I've just been spoiled by the amazing, outstanding, wonderfully cute Finnish/Swedish Cosette and Marius.

Samantha Barks as Eponine was okay but not great.
I think Eponine is one of those characters that I haven't found a favourite performance yet, though lately I've been listening to Rosalind James on the 2010 CD. But this girl didn't manage to amaze me. She was okay, definitely not bad, and sung nicely. But somehow she didn't really make me feel for the character. I think I enjoyed Lea Salonga's Eponine more than this, for example.

Now the good things?
Well, everything else.

I loved, loved, loved Ramin Karimloo (I saw him in The Phantom of the Opera, by the way! Pure wonderfulness there, too!) as Enjolras. A gazillion times better than the guy on the 10th Ann. DVD - the only thing I remember about him is his hair, which slightly reminded me of a Ken doll...
In Ramin I've found my ultimate Enjy. He's so great, I can believe this guy really could be a revolution leader. And I could loop his "Grantaire, put that bottle down!" the whole day without getting bored. And the Enjy/Grantaire interaction during Drink With Me... Pure goodness!

Speaking of Grantaire: I liked how the students were less middle-aged this time! The clearly too old students annoyed me on the 10th ann. DVD, better luck this time! And Grantaire could pronounce "Don Juan" right! Right now I only remember hearing that done on the Dutch CD before this! It's not that hard, see!

Some have claimed that Norm Lewis was a horrible Javert.
I can't see where they get that from.
In my opinion he wasn't better than Philip Quast (my, and I dare guess everybody else's ultimate Javert), but that definitely doesn't mean he would be bad! I especially liked how he had a somehow different interpretation of Javert than the usual - for example, I could swear Earl Carpenter (my first Javert, and the Bishop on this DVD!) is channeling Philip Quast during some parts of the 2010 CD, since he sounds just like the 10th Ann. CD. But I didn't get that feeling with Norm Lewis. His Javert was his own, and totally not a bad one!

Alfie Boe's Valjean was great, too.
Valjean is not a character I feel for easily. Usually, he leaves somewhat distant for me. And I can't say it wasn't like that this time, too - might have to do more with the character than the actor. But I really liked hearing an opera singer in the role, and I thought he sounded great!
I especially loved Confrontation. Sung by Boe and Lewis it really sounded like a lifetime of pure hatred compressed into two minutes. Just great, maybe my favourite performance of that song ever!

Lea Salonga as Fantine was fantastic.
During I Dreamed a Dream shivers kept running down my spine. It was amazing. And after Fantine's Death when she leaves the stage, little Cosette enters and they look briefly at each other... I wasn't far from crying at that point!

And finally, the Thénardiers.
I thought Matt Lucas couldn't top Alun Armstrong, who I find hilarious. But he did! He was even more funny, almost perfect! I couldn't help giggling during Master of the House! If the movie becomes reality, I wouldn't mind casting him - actually, I would almost demand it!
Jenny Galloway, then again, was a little bit more funny 15 years ago, in my opinion. But of course there's more to Mme Thénardier than the fun - I think her performance is now closer to the book. And I loved how she interacted with the audience at the end of Master of the House!

Lastly, a couple words about the staging:
I think the lights, especially during the barricade parts, looked amazing. And I also liked how they didn't sit on the stage the whole time anymore (but I will miss looking at the background action!). Especially Fantine's and Eponine's deaths had a whole new emotional level to them because of the new staging!

And now it's time to shut up so you won't run out of energy reading this and go to watch the DVD again!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Not a Dream After All

I saw the Finnish/Swedish production of Les Misérables at Åbo Svenska Teater for the second time yesterday.

There's a Swedish-speaking minority in Finland. That's why the musical, even though it is performed in Turku, Finland, is sung in Swedish. A lot of the actors are Swedish and the rest are Swedish-speaking Finns. I understand only the basics of Swedish. But that didn't matter yesterday. I enjoyed the show immensely!

I had seen the show once before this. I had a really good time back then and thought it was an awesome production. But for some reason just after this time it hit me how great this production of Les Misérables actually is. (An interesting fact, by the way: Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA have also seen this show. They came to Finland to do headhunting for their upcoming Finnish/Swedish production of Kristina från Duvemåla. They could very well hire everybody in the cast!)

Now, let's go through the show, shall we? I'll leave out the parts similar to the London original and describe mostly the differences. Prepare for a long rant!

Overture to Valjean's Soliloquy: When the audience sat in the small auditorium – my seat was in the fifth row and in the middle, a great spot! – we could see there were some bridge-like structures on the sides of the stage and a leafless tree growing from the middle of the stage. The first balcony was lined by a bridge-type thing the actors could walk on during the show. Due to the theatre being quite small the Overture was not as grand as usually, but it did a fine job.

During the Work Song (Se ner) the convicts tried to cut the tree by pulling a chain tied around it. The cleverest point of the scene - which I hadn't noticed the previous time - came when Valjean came onstage with another prisoner: a big branch fell from the tree on the other prisoner and Valjean lifted it off him. That was such a good moment of foreshadowing!

This was the first time the balcony around the balcony was used, Javert entered through it and sang his first lines from the back of the auditorium. 

Sören Lillkung's, who has already played the role in Helsinki eleven years ago, Javert was awesome from the first minute. He made Javert's disgust of all things illegal clear from the first moment, offering Valjean his ticket of leave and dropping it to his feet at the last moment.

Alexander Lycke sang his first soliloquy (Vad har jag gjort?) really well. He was a joy to listen to through the show.

At the End of the Day to Lovely Ladies: At the End of the Day (När en dag ör förbi) begun with only the male members of the ensemble singing the first verses. I thought that sounded really great. When the show progressed, I noticed Fantine, Thérèse Karlsson, had a friend who tidied her up to get her paycheck from the foreman. Does she have a friend in the original?

Fantine gets fired and sings I Dreamed a Dream (Jag har en dröm). Gorgeous. I've of course heard the song dozens of times, but this time shivers ran down my spine and I almost started crying. There was something about Karlsson's performance that made the character's pain so real, something so touching...

Lovely Ladies (Sköna damer) was great - but noticing one of the ladies was actually a gentleman was a little distracting... Granted, the female ensemble was quite small and Cosette, Éponine and Mme Thénardier had to double in almost every big scene in the first act, but anyway...

Lillkung was again amazing here. When Fantine clutched to Javert's leg and prayed him to let her go his expression was so perfect, you could just see he's heard the same explanation for the past twenty years. I remember the first time I saw the show I admired the tone of Lycke's Valjean when he told Javert to let Fantine go - he was a man you can't talk back to. This time that tone wasn't quite present yet, but Valjean got his moment later...

Who Am I to Confrontation: Who Am I (Vem är jag?), another great-sounding Valjean soliloquy, used the balcony thing again, having jury and Javert there. 

Fantine's Death (Kom till mig) was very touching, and when Valjean prayed for Fantine's soul Javert entered the stage and the music prepared for Confrontation... Awesomeness! Confrontation was really good, but after it came the part one can agree or disagree with: Valjean had a gun, which he pointed at several people and in various points. Maybe it's a little out of character? Anyway, instead of shooting Valjean kicked Javert a couple of times and ran off.

Castle on a Cloud to The Waltz of Treachery: The little Cosette I saw last time was quite a lot better than this one - yesterday's little Cosette was really cute, but her voice left quite a lot to hope for. Mme Thénardier, Daniela Franzell, however, had a strong voice and was awful towards the poor little girl - just as supposed.

Master of the House (Herre i sitt hus) didn't get so many laughs as it gets in London. I guess there are two reasons: at least half of the audience was Finnish-speaking, and they had to rely on the subtitles on top of the stage (taken from the Finnish libretto of the show. Not so very well translated, I'm afraid – no one tells the enemy to "go to heck"
in the middle of a fight, and neither does Valjean tell God to "do your job!"), so they probably missed some of the Swedish jokes, just like I did. The another thing is that Joachim Thibblin didn't play Thénardier so much for the laughs. There actually was a quite vile vibe about him. 
In The Waltz of Treachery the usual Colette-Cosette joke was replaced by some Cosette-Cotlette joke. Weird Swedish humour? I've no idea, I didn't understand it. But the Thénardiers were very unlikeable and horrible here, and Valjean had to flash his gun again. Then he dropped the money to Thénardiers' feet – just like Javert had dropped the ticket to his feet earlier.

Valjean dressed Cosette in a new costume and they took a turn around the stage. Behind the tree little Cosette changed to big Cosette, Marika Westerling. From where I was sitting I could see the change, but the previous time I sat in a seat where it seemed Cosette had magically grown, which looked nice.

Sorry for posting this picture from one of the previous posts again. 
There is something wrong with the one I had in mind, it won't download.
Look Down to Stars: Bad luck with the kid actors this time. Yesterday's Gavroche was also a little worse than I saw the previous time, even though the previous one was almost as tall as the ABC boys... But Look Down looked great with barrels with little fires and poor people around them. Enjolras, Marius and a couple of other students were watching the events from the balcony.

Eponine, Josefine Isaksson, was surprisingly well-dressed in this production. Forget the rags she has in London, here she has a coat and all! It was very bittersweet how after Marius, Glenn Daniel Nilsson, had met Cosette he hugged Éponine just because he was so happy and so in love...
Stars (Guds Stjärnor) was beyond awesome. Lillkung has also sung opera roles, and you could hear that. His voice was so strong and beautiful, I could've listened to him the whole night. Worth noticing of the staging was that the stars lit up in the back of the stage, which looked good.

After Stars I started noticing how much the other members of the audience loved the show, too: the applause was big, and when Gavroche came in and sung his little part he got almost as big an applause, which hadn't happened the previous time.

ABC Café to Do You Hear the People Sing: This time I had the feeling there was something familiar with Marius, Glenn Nilsson. I thought about it and suddenly it hit me: he looks just like Hugh Grant! Maybe it doesn't show from the photos, but if you see him live, I bet you'll agree!

The scenes with the students were my absolute favourite parts of the show. They were wonderful, packed with awesome moments, like Grantaire (Tore Norrby) teasing Marius about Cosette and jokingly almost kissing him. Then the two have a mock fight, which Enjolras, Rune S
æter, stops with the most awesome solemn gaze. Nilsson's "skoja!" ("Just kidding!") adlib was so cute, it fit the moment perfectly! The students also swore a a blood oath to fight for a better world.

I love how this production lost Enjolras' vest and gave him the lovely red coat, as seen in the picture above. I've a feeling that usually, no matter how non-replica a production of Les Mis is, the vest is there, along with Valjean's beard and Javert's sideburns - the latter two were present here also.

Do You Hear the People Sing (Folkets Sång) was way beyond awesome, too. The guys sounded so, so good, and the female ensemble backing them from the balcony made the whole song even more beautiful. I liked how they used the French flag instead of the red one. Wonder why they chose to use the red flag in London?

Rue Plumet to One Day More: Marika Westerling's, who played the role in Helsinki eleven years ago, Cosette was the cutest thing imaginable. She was so pretty and totally adorable with her blond hair and lovely smile, and her light dress was so much better that the black lampshade they give the poor girl in London. I can't imagine a better Cosette, she had a beautiful voice and made the character really likable. It was easy to understand why Marius would love this girl!

Marius was also too adorable for words here. He climbed a tree to get to Cosette's garden, fell from it and was so embarrassed when saying "I'm doing everything all wrong" that you couldn't help but feel for him. And together Westerlind and Nilsson managed to be really, really cute without being overly sappy – I haven't seen so many Mariuses and Cosettes, but these two were definitely the best of those I've seen!

One Day More (Än en dag) was pure awesome, too. I loved how they showed Enjolras spreading some sort of propaganda notes to the working people and getting them join the crusade during the epic act finale. The only thing that bothered me here was how students did the march usually seen during the number, but Enjolras just stood in the front row. It was a bit silly since Valjean, Cosette, Marius and Éponine all have their parts in the counterpoint of the show, but Enjolras stood in the middle of the stage quiet...

Upon These Stones to A Little Fall of Rain: Josefine Isaksson's Éponine was lovely and had a beautiful voice. Her On My Own (För mig själv) was really pretty. Poor girl! Usually I'm not that much an Éponine fangirl, but I couldn't help but to feel for her...

Javert had a beanie when he disguised as a revolutionary. I don't know about me, but just the thought of Javert wearing a beanie makes me giggle a little inside. Little People worked well, with Gavroche pointing a huge gun at Javert, helped by a student who may or may not have been Combeferre.

A Little Fall of Rain (Ett litet stilla regn) was adorable. Marius was so sweet here, and after Eponine's death Nilsson went for the angry approach with "her name was Éponine!", as if to say "See, this revolution of yours is not so awesome after all!"

Valjean letting Javert go was Valjean's Moment of Awesome I mentioned before, Just because of one word. Lycke packed so much to the simple two letters of the word "gå" that I almost felt like rising from my seat and leaving – no wonder Javert did leave after being told to do so with that tone! It's odd a single word can be so impressing, but here it was!

During the whole second act, by the way, the little applauses in parts where there are usually none went on. About everything but Éponine's death evoked enthusiastic clapping...

What's the deal with having no barricade photos, Åbo Svenska Teater? 
Have a sad trailer screenshot of poor quality instead.

First Attack to Final Battle: The barricade didn't turn in this production. Instead, it was in the left side of the stage, and it was partly composed of the tree which had been lowered from the mid-stage. The audience could see the National Guard attacking from the right. Such a good add.
I found it really touching there was a lady on the barricade with a baby. I felt so relieved when she left after Enjolras let the women go! When the ladies were hugging the students for goodbyes Enjolras looked interestingly sad. What was it? Realization of how this isn't going to end well and how he is making his friends' girlfriends and wives widows? Or maybe longing to have someone who to hug himself? I don't know, but I love little moments like these in shows that give me something to think about.

Previous time one of the students was so nervous before Drink With Me (Drick med mig) that he cried a little. Not this time. I wonder why not, I loved them showing a more human side, telling the audience these guys are hardly anything more than little boys facing their death...

Gavroche's Death, as usual, was just horrible. The audience was so well in the story: usually there's always someone who giggles after the loud bangs, but not here. Gavroche's body left lying on a little bridge on stage right, along with a couple men of the National Guard who had died in The Second Attack.

The Final Battle showed the both sides of the fight again. Bodies everywhere, on the barricade and on the right side of the stage... In this version, Enjolras was actually the last to die, just as in the book! After being shot he struggled to get the French flag secured to the barricade before breathing for the last time.

More trailer.

Sewers to Turning: The orchestrations of Sewers and Dog Eats Dog made a good impression. The orhcestra might've been small, but somehow in these scenes it struck to me they really took the most out of it!

Besides sounding good, Dog Eats Dog (Hund äter hund) was great in the acting department. Thénardier was creepy, the pulling a tooth out part was subtle but made me feel unconfortable, and it was so sad when Thénardier kicked Gavroche's body to the darkness.

Javert's Suicide (Javerts självmord)... Again, I could've listened to Lillkung the whole night! And here the suicide was done with some style: Javert climbed to a bridge-like thing quite high in the back of the stage and simply fell backwards to the darkness. So much better from the rolling onstage we see in London.

Turning, then! I have never liked this song and I've felt it's useless – before this. Here the bodies were onstage the whole time before Turning, and during the song the ladies took the dead men away and partly deconstructed the barricade. Finally the song had some meaning, finally there was some reason for it to be in the show! A huge thumbs-up for this production!

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables to Finale: Empty Chairs at Empty Tables (Tomma bord och tomme stolar) was incredibly powerful. I almost jumped from my seat when Marius hit a table with his fist and pushed down some chairs. But it was not just because of his angry actions the song was powerful, it was also due to Nilsson's singing and the wonderful ghost scene where the barricade was illuminated with green lights and the students appeared in a kind of a slow motion, looking happy and sure for their victory. Wow!

Every Day (Varje dag) in the middle of a fight showed us more Marius and Cosette cuteness. Westerling was, again, really sweet. I just loved how Cosette kindly mocked Marius by mimicing him introducing himself.

Beggars at the Feast (Ett sånt kalas) wasn't the laugh fest it usually is, neither, due to the more vile Thénardiers. The times I've seen the show in London the "this one's a queer, but what can you do" joke gets a laugh, but here no one even giggled. But after this song came the next to last surprise of the show:

The ensemble blocked the sight to the stage during the applause. When they left we saw the tree was up again, and around it sat every dead main character of the show in white versions of the costumes they died in. Including Javert. Yes. Javert was in the finale. I was yay-ing inside already, and the Finale was so beautiful... Éponine and Fantine sounded so pretty together, and when it was everyone's turn to sing the Do You Hear the People Sing reprise I wished the show would never end. I don't know if I would have put Thénardiers in the first row too during the reprise, though.

And then came the last surprise of the evening. Never, never ever have I seen an unprovoked standing ovation in a Finnish theatre (an actor announcing how happy he is to invite Stephen Schwartz onstage after Wicked's premiere counts as provocation).

But here I saw that.

First we applauded just like the principal of a school I used to go told a polite Finn applauds: no screaming, no banging the floor with feet, no standing up or dancing around. But then, when Lillkung and Lycke came onstage, some faint screams were heard. And when everyone took a bow together people started rising up.

I haven't seen a Finnish audience act this way ever before. That's the power of Les Misérables for you! And that's what this fantastic production deserves. Absolutely.

See the trailer of this amazing production:

Pictures by Robert Seger, Nana Simelius, and from the trailer.

The Son of the Phantom

Usually I'm not one to write long rants about movies, books or musicals I don't like.
I don't see any reason spending that much time with something you hate - the world is full of things you can enjoy instead!
But a little article by Jussi Tossavainen in yesterday's Helsingin Sanomat was a little too much for me.

It's a part of "Personal - A culture journalist who has seen all gets emotional" series, so it's not a real critique. But anyway... Some of what Tossavainen says about the sequel of The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, seems ridiculous to me.

In the text Tossavainen tells how much he liked the show.
"Judging by the shivers the show gave me it's almost perfect", he says. "Melodies start playing in your head right away. -- I almost cried when Sierra Boggess, playing Christine, finally sang the aria The Phantom wrote for her, Love Never Dies. -- I'm looking forward seeing if in the next ten years sir Andrew will make another sequel - titled The Son of the Phantom of the Opera, of course. I hope so!"
So far so good. I've listened to Love Never Dies, and while I think some songs are pretty but in its entirety it's nothing spectacular - not to mention the silly plot - I'm okay with someone else liking it. And I haven't seen it live, which of course might make it better.

But then comes this.
"In Britain musicals are taken more seriously than in Finland. It's still a little bit amusing that the fans of the original The Phantom of the Opera have got furious about the sequel, even though even the composer is the same. They think Christine and Raoul should've lived happily ever after. -- I'm not such a puritan myself. Vice versa: sixty years old, sir Andrew might have created the most gorgeous musical of his career."

I'd like to disagree here.
Firstly, I think that even though there might be better things to do than tell everybody how you hate Love Never Dies, the fans have every right to get mad.
You see, I like to imagine the creation of the show's plot went as follows...

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has invited some fans of the original Phantom to his office. The fans sit a little nervously in armchairs, watching the man who has composed their favourite musical shyly.

"We're going to have a little chat today", sir Andrew tells them. "I'd like to hear your thoughts of the first Phantom so I can make the best possible sequel. Let's start: what do you think of the character of The Phantom? What do you like about him?"

"Well", starts a short blonde girl, "I love how mysterious he is. I mean, he's the opera ghost, sends the mysterious notes and drops the chandelier! He's, like, dangerous but interesting at the same time!"
"In my opinion it's really interesting how there's two sides to him: on another side, he's this mysterious, seductive and sometimes even bloodthirsty being, really ghost-like. But on the other side he's just a human, and very unsure about himself. He's not very sociable, always alone", muses a boy with curly brown hair. "He has exaggerated the deformity thing, if you see what I mean - I believe he's the one who's most horrified of his face."

"Mysterious... Dangerous... Bloodthirsty... Unsure about himself... Unsociable..." mutters sir Andrew. "Thank you so much! Now, what do you think about Raoul?"
"I think he's not as sexy as The Phantom", giggles a red-haired girl with freckles.
"Well, yeah", says the blonde. "But I think he's quite nice. He's very charming, and most importantly, he's brave. He's ready to save Christine from The Phantom even if it means he'll kill him."
"It's cute how he's so in love with Christine", says a little dark-eyed girl in a quiet voice.

"Charming, brave, cutely in love", sir Andrew says while writing the adjectives into his notebook. "How about Christine, then?"
"I find it especially interesting how she projects something of her late father to The Phantom", the tall boy says before anyone else has the time to open their mouth. "And I think in the end she makes the right choice - after all, The Phantom is pretty much a madman."
"And in the end, Christine loves Raoul just as much as he loves her, I think", adds the blonde.
"Makes the right choice, in love, right. How about the side characters? Meg, for example?"
"She seems like a pretty simple, innocent girl. I guess Christine is her best friend and really important to her. But she's not a good singer!" the red-haired girl laughs.
"Innocent. Bad singer. Thank you so much for this, everybody! You've no idea how helpful you have been!"

When the fans leave the office, sir Andrew takes a look at the adjectives in his notebook.
"We need to find some opposites", he mutters. "Let's see... 'Dangerous', what's the opposite of that? Someone who tries to save people, I guess. 'Unsociable' is easy, the opposite is someone who is talkative and likes to have people around him. That also removes 'mysterious'..."
Sir Andrew makes a few notes and turns page.
"Well, Raoul then... 'Charming?' I think drunk people aren't charming, or wife beaters... So that's it for him. Christine... 'Makes the right choice?' Well, let's just assume her choice wasn't right after all. Meg? 'Innocent?' Hmm, how about a strip-tease artist, that's quite the opposite..."

After finishing with the notes sir Andrew takes a pile of printed fanfics from his drawer and tacks them on his noticeboard. Then he takes out three darts.
"Now, let's decide the rest of the plot", he mutters and throws the darts.
The first dart has pierced a fanfic where Meg loves the Phantom but he doesn't answer to her feelings. Another points at a story where Christine has a son with the Phantom. "These are so great", sir Andrew thinks. "How in the world I didn't think about this myself!"
The third dart has put a hole through a postcard from New York's Coney Island forgotten on the noticeboard.
"And we have the location", sir Andrew laughs. "This'll make a great show!"

In other words, I think Love Never Dies is like spitting in the face of the original's fans. It's like saying "I know what you liked about the original, and now I'm going to destroy all that!"
On top of that, the show is packed with plotholes, beginning from the time of the events. The original takes place in 1881 and the sequel in 1907 - or as Lloyd Webber put it, "roughly ten years after the end of the original."

The other thing I can't agree with or understand in Tossavainen's review is how he thinks this is Lloyd Webber's best musical.
I'm not an expert in his musicals, I haven't seen even a half of them. But Tossavainen's text makes me wonder if he's seen any... Out of the ones I've seen or heard I'd rank the original Phantom, Jesus Christ Superstar and even Cats higher than Love Never Dies.
I don't think Love Never Dies, as a score, is really bad. But I think it's mostly forgettable, and a lot more so than the other Lloyd Webber musicals I've seen. Till I Hear You Sing is beautiful, but in my opinion the title song, instead of being a tearjerker, is quite a letdown. Many of the other songs are boring and on the whole the show lacks the power and the feeling the first part has. I'd listen to the original rather than Love Never Dies, any day of the week.

I hear changes will be made to Love Never Dies. I hope they will improve the show.
And I hope Andrew Lloyd Webber decides to use his time and talent to create an original musical that respects the watchers instead of composing The Son of the Phantom of the Opera...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Birthday My Olde Friend

I wrote this for my deviantART journal, but I think it's nice enough to get its place in this blog, too. It's a little birthday speech to a friend of mine.

My dear friend,

I congratulate you!
A quarter of a century! Sure, to some that's yet nothing special. But in my opinion being of your kind and having the energy to keep going on with no need to rest for 25 years is worthy an applause!

I remember the night when we met, over a year and a half ago.
It was almost by accident on that Thursday in the middle of the darkest winter, after a pretty dark day. When coming to meet you I didn't have especially high hopes. Still you did your best to cheer me up - the best way you could with your deep, even depressing thoughts.
I'm not saying I didn't appreciate the effort. I thought you were interesting, even a bit awesome. But after returning home I forgot you. Your rival in his dark cape and half-mask had stolen my heart just a couple of days before, and I'm afraid I wasn't ready for a new friend like you in the middle of that haze. But you're patient. You knew I would call for you when the moment was right.

And the next spring I finally remembered my brief meeting with you.
I contacted you to hear from you again. Soon I couldn't understand how I could have forgotten you for the previous months! Now, when I really got to know you, I truely saw how special you were. I could listen to you for hours without getting bored. You were so different from the others I knew - so dark and thoughtful but not without that glimmer of humor and hope.

Soon I started introducing you to my friends.
Having so much fun in your company I believed my friends would also have a great time with you. Unfortunately it didn't always work: I talked about you to them - a lot! - but the response wasn't always that enthusiastic. However, some did meet you, and a couple of them even enjoyed their time with you.
Still, and I'm afraid this is still true today, none of my friends could see exactly what I saw in you or understand what made you so important an acquaintance to me.

My friend!
You have inspired me countless times and been there for me when I've been happy or on the verge of tears. Yet I wonder... How can we be such good friends with such huge differences in our personalities and thoughts? Sometimes it feels to me you've hardly in touch with the real life, with your pathos and idealization! I've even felt I'll never be able to understand all of your thoughts. But then again, maybe that little bit of mystery is what makes you so interesting - not just to me, but also to your countless other friends.

So, in conclusion, let us raise our glasses in honour of our friend's 25th birthday.
I'm looking forward to our next meeting and I'm certain you will continue to inspire me in the future.
I wish the next 25 years of your life will be filled with as much prizes, recognition, happiness and excitement as the first 25 have been!

Happy birthday to the musical Les Misérables.

I wish I've the time to write something about the Swedish-Finnish Les Misérables production one day soon.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It Has The Word "Miserables" in Its Title

To get some of my hype out before seeing Les Mis live in two weeks, and to distract myself from the looming exam week's horrors, I thought about a subject I can't believe I've never properly thought about before.

Why is Les Misérables such a totally awesome musical?
How in the world is it possible I have kept obsessing over it for over a year and it still feels like an interesting subject to think about?

The first thing that springs to my mind is the music.
I just got the new Les Misérables Live! Dream the Dream (will I ever stop mocking that name? I don't think so!) CD with the 25th anniversary tour cast. And when listening to it I realised something:
I get bored, if not extremely easily, pretty fast anyway.
Cats? I destroyed it by overlistening in a couple of months.
The Phantom of the Opera? I'm so bored of it I haven't listened to it for many months.
All of ABBA's music? Did I really like that sometime? Well, yes, I did, but the effects of an overload of Mamma Mia! and iTunes' repeat feature will still take a while to wear off...

But Les Mis?
When I got to listen to the new CD the music felt so fresh and new, even though I've probably listened to it more times than Cats, PoTO, Wicked and Chicago combined.
Sure, if I listen to it a couple of times in two days, like I already did with the new CD, it can start to feel a bit old.
But after a little while, often less than a week, it feels fresh and new again.
I'm not a music expert, but I'm certain that's a sign of a perfect score.

The other things that keeps Les Mis so interesting is the scope of the story.
It spans over two decades and mentions about every feeling and theme possible - live, death, love, hate, forgiving, ideals, reality, poverty, revolution, sacrifice... By squishing the giant book into a three-hour musical the show makes sure to has no boring moments.
What I find so great about Les Mis is that even when everybody dies and everything goes wrong the watcher still leaves the theatre feeling happy. One of my biggest favourite moments of the show is when Thénardiers come to sing Beggars at the Feast and the audience, desperate for a laugh after following the failing revolution and dying for the last hour, doesn't need but to see them before giggling out loud.
And the finale with the Do You Hear the People Sing reprise... Talk about uplifting!

Also: there are so many characters to care about. This is true with a lot of musicals, like RENT and Cats, but I think it's especially true with Les Mis.
There's the main character, Valjean, of course. But if you don't like him, no worries!
Fangirls can decide if they want to drool over Javert or Enjolras, both really interesting - not to add hot - guys. There's Eponine to identify with and Fantine to feel bad for, Marius and Cosette's love story to bring some saccharine in the show and Thénardiers to laugh with. And let's not forget the cute factor of Gavroche!
It's not like the show would have three characters for you to pick your favourite of. There are so many different people to identify with, care about and even hate with passion.
And if you don't care about any of them, no worries - they're probably dead by the end of the second act anyway.

Besides... If you're a Les Mis fan long enough you inevitably reach the level of fandom where a production with Javert with no sideburns will feel like a huge deal.
And by that point every day will feel like a little Les Mis adventure.
And your friends will finally take you to see the doctor.

Thinking about this text, there is probably nothing a Les Mis fan hasn't thought about already.
But I wasted a good hour of studying time and got all the stress about French and Swedish out of my system for a while by writing it. Maybe it deserves to be released just for those reasons.

I'd end this with a YouTube clip of John Owen-Jones and Earl Carpenter singing The Confrontation better than any people I've heard before, but I can't find a proper one.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where They Play Jazz

I just saw a version of Chicago in Tampere with a friend of mine who also loves musical theatre.

I'm a rational person and usually think things through with sense and order. I love paying attention to differences between productions and can watch the same show many times just to see all the details.
My friend, Sara, is quite different. She lives with the show, laughs and cries. If the show is good, it's easy for her to forget everything going on around her and just focus on feeling for the characters. I'm also about a dozen times more critical than Sara. We both saw the current West End Grease. I thought it was bad with its too small stage, not-so-ambitious sets and costumes, boring and too loud musical arrangements and weird acting choices. But Sara thought the music was groovy and the feeling good and enjoyed the show.

So, when we left the theatre playing Chicago and her first words were "it let a lot to hope for"... It certainly was not just me who thought there was something wrong with the show.

Part of my mood might have to do with the fact that when I had walked halfway to the train station in the morning I realised I had forgotten my aspirin at home. Of course I got a headache in the theatre. But it was not really bad, luckily. I was very much able to focus on the show. So, let's see...

The show started weirdly. If you've ever seen Chicago on Broadway – and I suppose this goes for West End, too? – you know it begins with one of the dancers walking to the centre of the stage and telling the audience they're about to see a show about all the things dear to us, like cheating, murder etc.
But here the show began with the overture. During it the actors played a little scene of how Velma murdered her sister. It was followed by a man welcoming the audience, saying the lines the show usually begins with and starting to sing All That Jazz.

I felt very confused at this point.

Usually I'm all for non-replica productions. The really different Finnish Cats started my interest in musical theatre, Finnish Mary Poppins worked greatly as a non-replica and Wicked wasn't bad, neither. And even if the adaptation doesn't quite work I still appreciate the director trying something different and showing their own vision. But messing with the script of the show from the first minute? I think this form of adaptating might be a little bit too liberal for me...

To my relief Velma came in to do the rest of the song. However, I thought there wasn't something quite right with her. I don't like critiquing people like this, but I feel this review won't be quite complete if I leave this unsaid. In my opinion, Velma is supposed to be sexy, sassy and charismatic. Even if she's not quite a teenager anymore, she's supposed to be a believable, energetic cabaret dancer.
Unfortunately Sari Siikander's Velma wasn't all of these things. This is of course just my opinion, but I just didn't feel the character through Siikander's performance, I don't think she fit the part. The horrible red hairstyle and the little bit too uncomfortably revealing and tight costumes didn't really help, looks-wise... Putting that aside, she had an alright voice, even if her dancing might had left something to hope for.

But then again, I thought Eriikka Väliahde's Roxie was great and had a lovely voice, as did Billy Flynn – whoever it might have been that played the role today since there are three opinions in the cast list and I had hard time spotting any "in the roles tonight" signs. Mama Morton and Amos weren't bad, neither.

But what I wonder the most about the casting is the addition of an MC. He started the show with his rendition of All That Jazz and he, in his clown type makeup and suit, kept popping up in various places in the show. He did all the announcements, acted as Billy Flynn's and Mama Morton's assistant and played the doctor in the beginning of the second act. He also sung more parts of other characters' songs, like the beginning of I Can't Do It Alone. It was a bit of a weird choice to me, but I think I can see what they were trying to achieve and appreciate them for that.

That wasn't the only change, though. There were other weird alternations around.

Firstly, Billy's speech about what kinds of love he cares about had been modified: the punchline about physical love not being so bad either had been left out. All That Jazz also seemed different to me: the murder scene had been somehow expanded and some lines, like Roxie's "I gotta pee", had been left out. Mama Morton's supposed lesbianism wasn't mentioned once: the "let them in, butch" line was out, for example. The mormon refrence in Cell Block Tango was cut, too.
Secondly, Mary Sunshine really was a woman. This annoyed me. I liked the character on Broadway with that gorgeous falsetto and the surprising scene in the end where he gets unmasked. But now A Little Bit of Good somewhat lost its point, even though they had inserted a dance scene featuring "the boys of the press club."
Thirdly, there wasn't any performance to Hunyak's hanging. She stood on the orchestra stand with a projection of a noose, the lights went off and it was announced she was hanged.
Fourthly, the girls didn't dance their Hot Honey Rag in the end. The scene dissolved straight from the duet part of Nowadays to the reprise of All That Jazz.

The first one of these examples could still be accepted as mistakes in the translation – if you suspend your disbelief for a bit. But the latter things make me think... If you don't have the talents necessary to do this musical, like a male singer with a good falsetto or two ladies who are able to both sing, act and dance their garters off, are you sure Chicago is the right choice for you? I really don't like the thought of making cuts because the cast isn't able to perform the show correctly. In a high school play it's okay, but with professional theatre...

The director Tiina Puumalainen's vision of this musical was another thing that didn't really make me dance with joy. Mostly because it seemed like the director of Chicago the movie's vision transformed on stage rather than her own.

During When You're Good to Mama on I realised what was going on. When I noticed they had swipped The Cell Block Tango's and Mama's song's places just like they do on the movie, and when Mama entered in a glamorous long dress accompanied by handsome men I sighed a little... It seems the director of this version loves the movie's concept where every song happens in Roxie's imagination. She tried to bring the fantasy aspect on stage, too, rather than reaching the show from the vaudeville show point of view like on Broadway.
But, in my opinion, the movie kept showing a bit too strongly in this production.

In some ways, trying to be like the movie improved the show. The sets, for example, were definitely more innovative and good-looking than their pretty much non-existant Broadway counterparts. The Cell Block Tango looked fantastic with cells in three levels and pole dancers inside them.

But on the downside... When they did They Both Reached For the Gun as a replica of the movie scene, with Roxie's really exaggerated doll-like look and a puppet stage with the journalists as marionettes – all dressed in period costumes – I just wanted to grunt. I don't love replica productions, but I'd surely rather see a replica than something trying to replicate a different form or art. Transitions from silver screen to stage don't always work that prettily! Instead, they often feel quite lazy.

A lot of the costumes reminded me strongly of the movie. Just the idea of them ripping their prison clothing off to reveal glamorous glittering costumes... Roxie's little silver dress for the song Roxie and her blue trial dress were straight from the movie. The idea of having something red in all the murderesses' costumes, except for Hunyak, seemed very movie-inspired. All He Cares About Is Love had showgirls in pink feathery costumes. The girl's white costumes and wall of light bulbs in the back of them in the finale... If they could've made it possible to make the light bulbs flash the text "Roxie and Velma" I've no doubt they would've done it.

To be fair, though, this version of Chicago had its fair share of great moments.

The Finnish Roxie was a great singer, and her speech in the beginning of the song Roxie was just hilarious - you should've seen her demonstrating Amos making love to her... I also loved the trial, especially Billy Flynn cheering the jury to make waves and whoops and his simply hilarious last scene where he left the stage dancing along the exit music and showing victory signs with both his hands.
I Can't Do It Alone, with Velma dancing along a shadow projection of her sister, was really clever.
The dancers weren't bad, neither. My only complaint with them is that there seemed to be a little too few of them and the stage seemed a bit empty at some points. But the Cell Block Tango scene was easily the greatest-looking scene of the show and it really showed off the cast's talents.
But somehow this musical left me feeling left down.

Maybe it's to do with the musical arrangements – Sara deemed the music foggy and some parts left me desiring more, too. When You're Good to Mama seemed way too clean, for example – or maybe with the too striking recemblance to the movie, but this version of Chicago didn't leave me feeling happy or humming the tunes, like the movie and the Broadway version did.

Luckily it's only three weeks left before I'll see a Finnish version of Les Misérables, my favourite musical.
If it's good it'll help me to forget a dozen of bad adaptations.
If it's bad it's my faith in Finnish theatres and possibly in humanity will get crushed.
No pressure, Åbo Svenska Teater! No pressure!

Pictures by Petri Kovalainen / Tampereen Työväen Teatteri.