Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Finnish Musical Year 2010-11

A Retrospect of Musical Theatre in Finland, 2010-2011

The first musical I saw the last fall - or actually, summer, it was still August - was Titanic in Ypäjä Music Theatre, an amateur theatre company that puts up plays with music. It was also my first closing night, even though I didn't know that at the time. I saw the show with my ever-so-loyal theatre-going friend Sara and her mother.
The musical Titanic isn't great material to work with, I think. I'm endlessly fascinated by the ship, its passengers and the disaster, and I love the movie - it captures the panic onboard very well. Sadly, this musical doesn't. The composer, Maury Yeston, had the chance to make all the noisy, epic tunes he wanted, but he wasted that opportunity. The music is, in my opinion, a bit too calm and pretty.
Luckily the plot only twists a couple historical facts, most notably by making Bruce Ismay a speed-obsessed jerk... But what I think is the story's greatest fault is having no clear main characters. In some instances that works, but not here, I'm afraid. It's hard to feel bad for a collection of characters you know hardly anything about.
All that said, the production was still great. You wouldn't have believed it's an amateur theatre! Most of the actors did great job with their roles, the set was really inventive and even the costumes were beautiful. A huge thumbs up to Ypäjä Music Theatre! When you guys do your next show, I'll try my best to be there!

In August it was also time for Wicked's Finnish premiere in Helsinki City Theatre, a premiere which I attended with my friend Tiia. (Such sneaky birthday gift to give to your friend, musical tickets! That's practically forcing her to keep you company in theatre!) I've talked about Wicked here a couple times already, most notably at here, at my response to one especially sour critic. I don't claim Wicked is a perfect musical by any means, but it has good tunes and will surely entertain you - so I still think badmouthing everything it has to offer is a bit of an overkill.
I don't have much to add to what's been said before, but Wicked, besides being my first premiere, also marks my first time seeing a musical composer, this time Stephen Schwartz, live. Too bad they kept him hidden during the intermission, I'd have loved to shake hands with him!

In September I saw Chicago in Tampereen Työväen Teatteri with Sara.
I like Chicago a lot, but as I've said before, this production was a disappointment. I've talked about it here, and while I've learned to see good in it in retrospect and don't dislike it particularly strongly anymore, I don't really like it either. I can't bring myself to like stealing ideas from movies, and even though the leads did, mostly, an amazing job, I think the show would've needed more ensemble members and even more glitz and glamour to really take flight.

In October I had my first chance to see my favourite musical, Les Misérables, in Finland. Oddly enough, the first time visiting Åbo Svenska Teater - again with Sara - didn't really feel that epic. It was great, but I didn't feel as extatic as you'd suspect. It felt just great. Little did I know how epic my feelings would become later on...

In October I also saw Rebecca in Kouvola Theatre, once again with Sara.
The more I think about Rebecca, the more I dislike it, surprisingly. Maybe some of that's to do with the CD I bought, which has the whole show, dialogue included, in German - it's annoying to listen to, not understanding the language. But I also find the music a little bit underwhelming at parts, and the whole story, while it was really interesting to see it unfold, doesn't really fit well for repeated viewings in my opinion. I thought it was great when I left the theatre, now I mainly think "meh" when it comes to my mind. But maybe seeing it again would change my mind, after all...
However, as with Titanic, the production was surprisingly superb. Kouvola Theatre is a small one, and therefore I was amazed at the quality of their cast. Some of the sets were a little set-looking as opposed to realistic, and the big scene in the end could've been grander, but for the theatre's size and my expectations, I was positively surprised.
Bonus points to the lovely ladies of The Senior Teacher Club of Kouvola for making me smile with their wisdom, heard in the theatre foyer: "I really disliked the play. It should've been two or three hours shorter."

I saw Les Mis again in November, with my dad and a couple of my family's Åbo-based friends, and this time the epicness really got me. The next day I wrote one of the hugest rambles of the history of all my blogs - and, suprisingly, also my blog's most popular text -, a review at here. As I wrote back then: "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."
I had found a new favourite musical production. Cats, Lahti City Theatre 2008-2009, you were amazing, but sorry...

I saw nothing in December, but 2011 started nicely with Next to Normal in Helsinki City Theatre.
I had managed to get a bunch of friends to come along: Sara, as usual, but also Tiia (a Christmas gift this time), Ulla and Mimmi. We had a blast, I don't remember ever laughing so much during an intermission!
And the show was amazing. I think it's one of the best scores I've ever heard in theatre, and the subject matter is very touching. When the big twist happened my jaw really dropped, extremely clever!
This was also a great time for me and Tiia to fangirl over our favourite actor, Tuukka Leppänen. I had been a fan ever since the aforementioned Cats, and Tiia, being introduced to him as Wicked's Fiyero, quickly developed a fangirl crush on him, too. I think Mimmi, Ulla and Sara were quite embarrassed of us two the way home, when we couldn't stop gushing and giggling in the train station... If you, for a reason or another, are interested in my Tuukka Leppänen fangirling, do see this link.

I and Sara saw West Side Story in Tampere in February. It was a student production, and Sara wasn't exactly excited about it, but I really liked it. The actors, still studying to be trained singers and actors, weren't always perfect of course, and the director had made some bad choices (why no male ensemble in Tonight Quintet, just Riff and Bernardo? Why?), but the production had a huge orchestra and sounded as good as it gets.
Here I found out that I actually love West Side Story. I had seen it on Broadway, and, while I dislike the movie, had liked it, but here I started to love the show. It's a compact package of strong emotions, great tunes, serious issues and, to put it bluntly, shit hitting the fan. There's nothing to add and nothing to take away, it has all the elements you need for a good musical. 
If some Finnish theatre decides to do West Side Story again, though, I've a word of advice: get a new translation. The current one, from the 60's or so, is the most horrible one I've ever had to listen to. Using lots and lots of bad puns doesn't equal Sondheim in any way.

In February I also left for Athens with my dad, and we had the chance to see a Greek production of RENT - but that's besides the point here. So, jumping to March, and to Les Mis once again, and again with my dad (he's becoming quite a fan, I believe). It felt even epic-er, and I was really amused to notice my dad's an Eponine fanboy: "I think that Cosette was a bit of a jerk, Marius should've gone with Eponine instead. She was a nice girl."

March continued with Wicked again, and boy, was that one of the most exciting nights of my life.
As I've told you before, I and Tiia, who had become a fan of the show since the premiere, had decided to make little plushies for the three main actors of Wicked. I admit my motivations had a little bit more to do with meeting a certain actor than complimenting the leading ladies for their good work (not that I wouldn't have honestly wanted to do that too, though!)...
Our friend Mimmi joined us to see the show, and I'm glad she was there - we were so nervous, Tiia and I, that it was good to have someone in her right mind around... We almost fainted just because we were so nervous before meeting the actors to give them our gifts. Luckily they turned out to be lovely people and everything went as well as it could, after all. It was great meeting all three, and, after two years of fangirling, I could check "hug Tuukka Leppänen" off my to do list! As I figured at here back then, I smile because it happened, still. So much that my face hurts.

March was a good month for seeing shows. We celebrated Sara's birthday by going to see RENT's Finnish premiere. Sara, Ulla and Mimmi all enjoyed the show greatly, only Suski thought Wicked was better... To each her own. I'm more with Sara's team here - I thought Suomen Musiikkiteatteriensemble ry, a newly-found group composed of young actors, did an amazing job with one of my favourite shows of all time.
I've talked a lot about this, and the Greek RENT, at here - I might just add that Sara and I loved the show so much we, besides giggling, screaming and making a general scene of ourselves in the night of Lahti after the show, rushed to see the closing night two weeks later. It's very sad the show's run was so minimal, but I've heard the cast didn't get paid, and the show didn't have a huge budget to begin with, so I can understand their decision. Still wishing for a quick revival, though!

In April we saw A Little Night Music in Turku City Theatre with Sara. She didn't like it, I loved it. Pretty much all has been said at my extensive review at here already, moving on...

The last day of April was also the last day of Les Mis for this spring, and I had to see it. I know this blog seems to be mainly about the aforementioned show already, but maybe I could add a couple of words...
This was the best time I've ever had in a theatre. I went alone, but had a truely amazing time. And not just me, the whole audience's mood was fantastic! It was May Day, so I don't know if everyone had already drank their first glass of champagne before entering the theatre or if it was just general party mood... But it was fantastic nevertheless.
Hearing the cast rehearsing One Day More before the show begun... Alexander Lycke, ÅST's Valjean, staring me directly in the eyes during one of his songs (or so it seemed to me. He probably just wondered why I was smiling so widely at his character's pain)... The longest applause I've ever heard, the most enthusiastic standing ovation... The party blowers and streamers the cast had at the curtain call... The "We will Mis you, Marius" sign some fellow fans waved at Glenn Nilsson since it was his last night in the role (I agree with them - Nilsson's Marius had the perfect mix of emotion, good looks and social awkwardness for two women to be fighting over his heart)... The director Georg Malvius coming onstage to take his bow... Me explaining Javert's motivations to an English-speaking couple in the foyer...
It was perfect. I felt like home there. The best May Day I could imagine.

The year's last show for me was Helsinki City Theatre's Next to Normal again, and again with Sara and her mother. Right after seeing it I was quite sure twice is enough, but now I don't know anymore... Maybe third time tells the truth next fall after all?

I of course didn't see every show in Finland, not at all. Some are too far for my time and funds, and some I skipped because I know I don't like them, or, as with Helsinki Svenska Teatern's Cabaret, because I know a Finnish production is coming up soon and would see that rather than the Swedish one. But what I saw didn't disappoint me - I'm constantly amazed at the quality of this country's theatres!

The next season holds a lot of goodies in store, too. Jesus Christ Superstar in concert, Tanz der Vampire, a new Finnish musical called Anna Liisa (about a young lady in the 19th century who is forced to kill her baby), the closing night of Les Mis, Kristina från Duvemåla, and lots of others...
I can't wait for the 2011-12 season to get started!

Pictures from the theatres' websites.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had a wonderful season. And I agree, musical tickets are the best presents.

    And enjoy your shows in London! I'm looking forward to reading about them.