Sunday, August 28, 2011


Sorry about the delay with the last Three Days of West End story. For a reason or another, talking about The Phantom of the Opera doesn't inspire me, even though I adore the show. Maybe another time, maybe not, we'll see. But now...

Jesus Christ Superstar with Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius Hall, Lahti, 27.8.2011.

JCS is one of those shows I have wanted to see for ages.
The premise is so weird - a musical about the life and death of Jesus Christ? Wow. And I've loved the music ever since I first heard it, some of my favourite musical theatre songs of all time are from it. Of course I was excited when I heard it was being done and rushed to get the tickets.
Still, I didn't get my hopes really high when the day approached. I had read bad reviews about some of the actors, and, for a reason I can't really articulate, I just didn't feel all that extatic. Either school pressure or the bored pessimist in me taking charge, I guess. Or both.

So, I'm glad to tell you this concert surpassed the little expectations I had and ranked itself among my favourite productions of all time.

Sibelius Hall

I had never visited Sibelius Hall before, and I have to say, it's pretty fancy. It's, to all you non-Finnish readers out there, named after maybe the most appreciated Finnish composer and situated next to a lake, with lots of wooden details. I think "the epitome of all things Finnish" was the architect's inspiration...
Me and my friend had amazing seats: second row, right in the middle, and by a stroke of luck no one sat in front of us. At first, I was afraid it was too close, but actually, it was perfect. I've a somewhat eccentric Finnish teacher who once told us he likes to sit in the very front in theatre because "you'll get the best vibes there". I'm starting to agree.

The show sounded great with the whole symphony orchestra and a big choir. I'm afraid we were a little too close for perfect acoustics, since it sometimes felt the voices and sounds blurred into each other a bit (even though the hall's acoustics are sometimes mentioned among the world's best), but since we got to watch the performers so closely - and the blurring was still much milder than in many other shows I've seen - it didn't matter much at all.

As for the performances... 
The only disappointment of the night was Sami Hintsanen's Judas. His voice suited the part very well, but I didn't really get the feeling his character felt much anything. He more sung the part than acted it, and even though it's in a concert form, it's still a piece of theatre... Also, some of his mannerisms really started to bug me after a while.
But everyone else, in my opinion, did a beautiful job. Maria Ylipää was lovely - as always! - as Maria Magdalene, but it was Hannu Lepola's Jesus that really did it for me. He was perfect. His voice was gorgeous, and his expression was, indeed, of "the haunting, hunted kind". His was maybe the best Gethsemane I've ever heard, it was gorgeous and warranted a huge applause. A beautiful, strong performance.
Not to say the smaller parts were any worse! I really liked them all, they had huge energy and did justice to their roles, but my favourite was perhaps Anssi Valikainen's Pilate. You really felt for the character when watching him; you saw the character's inner struggle when he was facing the difficult decisions he has to face. Great, great job.

I think Jesus Christ Superstar is one of those shows that work with really little staging, so the concert setting didn't bother me at all. The piece is, without any doubt, strong enough to hold on its own without fancy sets or big dance scenes.
The weirdest fact of the night was that the whole piece was sung in English, since usually musicals are translated into Finnish around here. However, I understand their decision. Opera isn't translated either, and having a look at the Finnish lyrics that ran above the stage as subtitles confirmed what I've heard said before: the Finnish translation is a bad one. It had a couple of clever moments, but it also had at least five awkward wordings per every smart line. If you're translating Jesus Christ Superstar, I feel you should be extra careful with those bits that have biblical references. "It is finished" has a little different feeling than the translation's "It's over now!"...

The applause after the show was rather huge. For the first time, though, I realised what the person who once spoke about applause being distruptive here in my blog's comments meant. JCS is such a strong story - I think I would have needed a minute's silence before applause to get my train of thought back to everyday world again.

All in all, an amazing night.

The picture is not mine.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Three Days of West End: Love Never Dies

Here it is. The big one, the one everybody loves to hate.
Siiri reviews Andrew Lloyd Webber's Love Never Dies.

If I'm so sure no one likes Love Never Dies, what was I doing, seeing it? Well...
  • I felt I can't really badmouth LND properly before I really see it - and, who knows, maybe I'd like it live after all?
  • I loved Ramin Karimloo in The Phantom of the Opera and in the Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert, so I really wanted to see him again.
  • David Thaxton as Raoul. As I've noticed, around the Les Mis fandom talking about Thaxton may result in some quite heated exchange of opinions, but I'll still confess something: I had seen Thaxton two times before Love Never Dies, both times as Enjolras, back when I was a brand-new Les Mis fan. And I don't remember anything about his performance. Sacrilegious, huh? So, I wanted to see Thaxton in something, if only for the reason I could say I remember seeing him...

If you want to read about my opinions based on the CD alone before diving into the full stage experience, take a look at here. And, mind you, I really like the original Phantom. I try to stay as respectful as I can, but if you love Love Never Dies with all your heart, you might want to close this window now...

First, I'll analyse the characters. Because this is a sequel, the way the characters have developed is of course an interesting aspect to observe. Let's begin with the Phantom.
In some ways, The Phantom is still the same guy he was ten years before. He's just as obsessed about Christine as before. You'd suspect he's going to die without her after the original, but if that doesn't happen, him setting up a new lair and mourning his lost love is the second-best guess.
But otherwise... Don't you think this Phantom is a bit, well, too high-functioning, compared to the original character? In The Phantom of the Opera, the title character had severe difficulties with interacting with the rest of the world. He had spent decades hiding, obsessing about his own appearance to an unhealthy degree. By the end of the show, we've found out he is a blackmailer, a kidnapper and a murderer. He mopes about the world abandoning him, but doesn't try very hard to gain its appreciation.
In Love Never Dies, the Phantom - still with no proper name given - is a successful businessman with his own amusement park. He has become more social, and at one point he even confronts Raoul without his mask on. You'd think that situation would rip open a dozen scars and make him feel really vulnerable, but he goes through the whole incident with a smile on his face. By the end, he's making speeches of inner beauty and trying to rescue damsels in distress, not causing the distress in the first place.
People change, sure, but to me such huge changes as these seem very unlikely.

Christine, then again, has a little more believable character arch.
We don't really know that much about her character, based on the original. She misses her late father, has musical talents and finds herself in a difficult situation between two men. Still, her inner world remains a bit of a mystery to us. Does she get engaged to Raoul because she loves him or because she needs protection from the danger the Phantom represents? Despite her fears, she does see something in the Phantom - so is there something more than pity behind her decision to kiss him? 
We don't know, and that's why Christine's still a believable character in Love Never Dies. Of course, it's rather cruel of her to sleep with the Phantom the night before her wedding, but I think it's very well possible she might regret choosing to marry Raoul.

Speaking about Raoul... His character actually made me laugh a little. 
Maybe he was a bit of a stereotype, being the young, cute, love-struck hero in the original, but here he hasn't so much developed as turned into another stereotype: the drinking, gambling, possibly wife-and-kid-beating jerk. And so angry at that it's almost funny. It's not the actor's fault, but the way the character is written... This is unacceptable, do you hear me! Must you make that racket!! Heh. Poor guy. 

The last characters transported from the original are the Girys, Madame and Meg.
Meg is another character I can see developing to this direction. She didn't seem too keen on the ballet in the original, and we know very little about her. Therefore we can't really claim she didn't wish to be a vaudeville performer the whole time.
But Madame Giry... She is a bit of a showbiz mother in the original, teaching Meg the ballet, sure, but I don't see her abandoning the opera. Ballet seems to mean so much to her in the original, and the way she acts as a link between the Phantom and rest of the world doesn't mean she isn't afraid of him, nor that she would want to help him to set up an amusement park on another continent. I just don't see it happening.

To the story!
I think the show's first act is a bit of a mess. I like some of the music a lot, but the act itself - all the issues with characterisations aside - doesn't feel whole to me. Not every part seems to belong. It's probably a result of the extensive rewrites the show went through, though I'm ready to admit many of them were for the better.

So, as you may know, nowadays the show begins with 'Til I Hear You Sing. I love this song. Whatever is said about Love Never Dies, 'Til I Hear You Sing is a showtune of the first class and Ramin Karimloo sung it really, really beautifully.
Unfortunately, the messiness of the first act kicked in right after the brilliant first song. After the amazing starter, the plot disappears somewhere for a good while, leaving the audience to watch a cavalcade of projections and circus acts. Neat. Then we get some exposition and some more exposition in the form of Madame Giry and Meg. Finally, after quite a while - though the wait wasn't quite as long as on the CD - we see Christine and Raoul and the plot accelerates again.

After meeting the main characters from the original again, I found myself enjoying some scenes. For example, the big ensemble song, Dear Old Friend, and Christine and Phantom's first love duet, Beneath a Moonless Sky, were to my tastes. Even though the latter's lyrics sound like a middle schooler's draft at vaguely erotic poetry, it's a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. I just like the tune. 
Nevertheless, couldn't they have remove the second love duet when they were rearranging the show? From my point of view, two in a row feel rather tedious, even though the second song comes back in the finale of the show.

The act wraps up with The Beauty Underneath, a duet between Phantom and Christine's ten-year-old son. Like the title song of the original, it doesn't quite match the tone of the rest of the score. Fine. Except for that the song, in my opinion, is absolutely creepy. 
Maybe this is hopelessly immature of me... But listen to it, imagine an adult woman sings the boy soprano's part and, then, tell me about the situation you imagine this song accompanies. "Don't you feel amazing things?/Things you know you can't confess/Things you thirst for, nonetheless." Um.
When seeing the action onstage, the piece doesn't sound quite so weird, but I think the lyrics should've been thought out a little more carefully.

The second act feels a little more whole to me, maybe because it hasn't undergone so many changes. Again, there are some songs I enjoy quite a lot, most notably the Entr'acte and the both versions of Devil Take the Hindmost (I'm a big sucker for counterpoints). The big Phantom of the Opera reprise moment is a favourite of mine, too, even if it doesn't leave quite so big an impact anymore than on the CD - there are maybe too many hints to the original in the current version.
Sadly, again, there are problems.
My biggest peeve with this act was how it set up the main dilemma from the original Phantom once again. Will Christine sing or not? Which one of these two men will she choose? Been there, seen that, yawn. It's even more boring because the solution is so obvious this time: would you rather go with a constantly angry moron who has gambled away all your money and hates your kid, or with a rich amusement-park owner who is extremely in love with you, and, despite a minor flaw in is facial complexion, is also quite sexy? Hmm. I truely wonder.
And while I'm at it... Why Christine only has two choices, anyway? Isn't walking away without either of these men an option at all? Christine doesn't set up a great example of an independent woman. I'm certain she could've earned a living on her own, with her obvious musical talent, but unfortunately the show doesn't set that as an option.

Finally, the ending of the show - spoilers ahoy! - almost made me fall asleep. With the Phantom's heroic speech about Meg being beautiful inside and whatnot, the Finale feels almost like a joke to me. This is a man who has been so embarrassed of himself that he has spent half of his life hiding, and now he lectures about inner beauty. Yep. The ridiculousness of the plot, which has been kept in a decent check for most of the time, really flourishes during the ending.
I mean... How long does it take for a person to die from a gunshot? If you think A Little Fall of Rain in Les Mis is stretching it, try to sit through Christine dueting with the Phantom without getting a sudden urge to scream "die already!" And, again, after she finally draws her last breath, and Raoul comes back to observe the body... I felt like laughing. I could almost hear Raoul speaking: "Man... I leave my wife with you for two minutes and this is the result? Geez..." Not the reaction the scene was going for.
I think the whole story, and score, of Love Never Dies, is hit-and-miss. Score mostly hit, but story mostly miss. If Lloyd Webber had used this music with an original tale, I'd surely enjoyed the result more, but sadly Love Never Dies can't survive comparisons with the original.

A word about the scenery: I think the sets and costumes are beautiful. However, as said, the original is always in the watcher's mind, and I don't think they quite match it. Then again, not many shows will, sequels or not. On their own, the sets are very nice, even incredible sometimes. The skeleton lady in the Phantom's lair, for example, was simply amazing! I also loved the lights surrounding the balconies - in my opinion they could've been even more blingy.

Lastly, the cast. As said, I saw the show with Ramin Karimloo and David Thaxton, with Celia Graham as Christine. 
They did the best they could, I'm certain of that, and I really enjoyed their performances and voices. But, no matter how talented the cast, this show remains a mess to me. I'm not surprised it's closing soon. It's not for my tastes, and I don't think I'll be buying the upcoming DVD anytime soon.

The photos aren't mine. 
The photo with the Phantom and Christine by Joel Ryan, the one with Meg by Jonathan Hordle.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


As I mentioned in my reviews so far, I'm a bit emotional about West End. Tears-all-over-my-face-just-by-the-sound-of-the-overture emotional. But even so, I still love Finnish theatre just as much.
Because you're reading my blog, you'll probably squee in joy when I tell you I'm going to explain my opinion with a longer-than-life-itself comparison of the theatre etiquettes of Finland and West End. I wish to amuse, educate and/or ramble until you fall asleep.
Let's begin.

The tickets
You can get print tickets easily in Finland, but I almost always buy my tickets from a supermarket in my town - a habit that stuck with me from the time I didn't have an online bank account. The market has a combined desk for a tickets agency and a betting agency. The shop assistants change every time I go there and none of them can use the ticket machine, so there's always a long line of angry gamblers squeezing their lottery coupons behind me. Still, I take my time. Plenty of it, because I usually have to repeat "Helsinki City Theatre", "it's not in Turku", "no, two o'clock" and "no, it's not in Turku" a few times during the process.
When going to London, I usually buy tickets to the shows I really want to see online. I know that I'd get them cheaper if I bought them after arriving London, but I'm a bit paranoid and want to make sure I won't miss something special. I visit tkts, too, it all depends on my obsession about the show in question...
So, I search all over the internet for cheapest tickets and wonder what's the deal with the rule of the ticket-selling websites that requires the owner of the credit card to pick up the tickets themselves. Not every box office checks this, of course, but for example in Ghost they actually wanted to see my friend's credit card the tickets were bought with. Why? If the person has printed e-mail confirmation and brought it with them, isn't it a clear enough sign that they own the tickets? I wish more West End theatres would adopt the print ticket system, it'd make everything easier...
As for prices: in Finland you can usually get stalls seats cheaper than West End, but then again, the worst balcony seats can be more expensive. So, though West End is more pricey in general, Finland isn't cheap either. Not counting the trips to there and back of course!

The dress code
I'm not a girly girl by any account. I don't use makeup, I haven't had long hair in years, I never wear dresses and only own one pair of heels. My formal attire consists of a pretty masculine jacket or two, some nice trousers and the huge amount of amazing, pretty knitwear my godmother makes for me.
So, in Finland, dressing for theatre is not a huge problem. Well, my mother does not approve of me going to theatre in Converse All Stars, but if I'm going by train and am supposed to take a couple kilometers' walk from the station to the theatre, most often in the rain, snow or slush, I don't really want to ruin my good shoes. But as for my other clothing, I'll throw on some nice knitwear and don't really look radically different from the rest of the audience.
In the other hand, when visiting West End or Broadway, I always have problems. I like to pack light, both because the prices most airlines charge for extra luggage are insane and because I think I've much better things to do with my life than spend what feels like an eternity waiting for my bags to appear into the luggage hall. Also, much to my mother's dismay, I definitely won't be taking the heels on holiday - I tend to have a nicer time with all toenails intact.
As a result, in winter I don't usually bother with the knitwear but wear an ugly but warm and practical fleece jacket, especially if I go to the theatre straight from the city without popping in the hotel first. Then I feel horrible in the theatre, even in the Tourist Balcony I always find myself sitting in, because everybody else seems to wear something nicer than me. That's why I, last winter on Broadway, tried to get a grip of my wardrobe and dressed sharply with a necklace, a nice shirt and all... I felt mortified again: everybody around seemed to be wearing their fleece jackets. Maybe it's psychological, but I always seem to be doing the wrong thing.
In the summer I've a bit more space in my bag and try a tad harder, but it's still a thin line between too casual and too formal, and I haven't quite learned to balance on that line yet. It doesn't help that I've a tendency of spilling various sauces and blood on my fancy clothes and have to rely on mundane shirt-shorts-and-sandals combinations from time to time. I've kind of solved my problems by wearing the t-shirt of the musical in question to it whenever possible. Maybe it's not really according the dress code to wear a t-shirt at all, but you can't really fight the logic of honouring Les Misérables with a Les Mis t-shirt, right?

The theatres
Here are some West End theatres:

Here are some Finnish theatres:

See what I'm trying to say?
There are expections to this rule in both places - not every West End theatre is gorgeous, and some Finnish theatres, like Åbo Svenska Teater and National Theatre, have a lovely old-fashioned look. But, as a whole, Finnish theatres are built during that unfortunate period of the latter part of the last century when the cool thing, architechturally, was to lay boxes of different sizes and materials on top of each other.
Even so, I'm ready to admit Finnish playhouses are usually more practical than their West End counterparts. They've more leg room in the auditorium - in West End I often get the feeling I'm sitting in a plane, in economy class -, they have big, proper cloakrooms, their restrooms have more than two stalls each, the foyers are less crowded... Finnish theatres may not be pretty, but they do their job beautifully.

The customs
When I first went to see a West End show (that first one being Grease) I was thoroughly confused by the people drinking beer and eating ice cream in the auditorium. Around here, you don't. If you want to sip something during the intermission, you go to the bar in the foyer and get your overpriced champagne, but you simply don't bring drinks with you to the auditorium. Let alone ice cream. Couch drops might be okay.
I'm not sure which version I like better. The Finnish way makes going to theatre a bit more solemn and sophisticated, but then again, should going to theatre always be solemn and sophisticated? Why can't you have an ice cream while watching the events unfold onstage if you want to? (Well, if you're me, the answer's simple actually: because I'd spill it on my nice sweater.)
Unfortunately, in West End the jerks who check their cellphones during the show are more plentiful than in Finland. I'm strict with this - using your phone during the show is not okay. Your friends can wait. Your family can wait. Your dying grandma... What are you doing in the theatre again if that's the case? You simply don't use your cell during the show. Besides of wasting your own money by getting a ticket and not watching what's happening, you're annoying a whole auditorium full of other people, you selfish person. Also, putting the sound off of your various gadgets is not as hard as so many seem to think.
I don't go much into the wonders of the Finnish curtain calls (I already did at here), I just want to say that the West End and Broadway version feels a tad too short for me, a bit too harsh move into cold, solid reality after a night full of magic. By the time the audience is leaving in London, the main actor has just taken their first bow around here...

The experience
I love the both theatre-going experiences, the West End one and the Finnish one. The Finnish is what I usually have, so West End is a bit more exotic to me, but that's neither a pro or a con, just a fact. Both are amazing in their own ways.
I have to say, though... In West End my intermission hobby of people-staring is funnier than at home. That's partly because West End shows have so international and interesting audiences and partly because you can see some young people at West End. Finnish theatre seats are filled by silver-haired gentlemen and ladies: societies of seniors often invade the stalls on their weekend trips. I'm serious. The positive side is that I know what kind of society I'll join when I retire...

The theatre pictures are from various sources: Wikipedia, Finnish towns' home sites, Google Images... I own nothing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Three Days of West End: Les Mis

I don't think I'll review the musicals I saw in chronological order - Ghost was a short review, but Les Mis and Love Never Dies are quaranteed to make me rant, so I'll write them out of the way and finish with a little more neutral The Phantom of the Opera.

It's been a while since I saw Les Misérables in London the last time. So, the beginning was another emotional moment for me, tears all over once again when the Overture started. Sniff. I sat in the Grand Circle as always, so the the stage was a bit far away, but it was okay. One day, mind you, I'll get the best seats to every performance. One day.
Oh well.
I think I'll do this review character by character, it makes the most sense that way - you don't really have to hear what I think of the show itself anymore, so I'll skip to the interesting parts!

Jean Valjean - Jonathan Williams
At first I was the tiniest bit sad when I found out I wouldn't get to see Alfie Boe as Valjean - I had really liked his voice in the DVD. But a couple of people told me not to worry, since the alternate Valjean is really amazing.
Now I agree with them, one hundred percent.
As I might've mentioned, Valjean is a character I don't feel for easily. Williams's Valjean, then again... He wasn't so much an actor playing Valjean to me, like everyone I've seen before has been to some extent (well, everyone I remember seeing - the first two times I saw Les Mis in London are a bit blurry around the details), he actually was Valjean. The character felt more real to me than ever before. And his voice was so good, too: his was one of the best Bring Him Homes I can remember. I especially enjoyed his moments with little Cosette, they definitely were the cutest little Cosette and Valjean pair I've ever seen!
I really didn't regret that I didn't see Alfie Boe one minute. I doubt he could've been any better than Williams.

Javert - Hadley Fraser
Hadley Fraser plays Grantaire in the 25th anniversary concert, so I was of course very curious to see his Javert. Sadly, I can't say I would've liked his performance that much.
First of all, despite all the makeup he looked a bit too young to be Javert. He's 31 years old, but the role could easily be given to someone twenty years older... That's not my main problem with Fraser's Javert, though. Just as white Thénardiers can have a black kid in Les Mis, it just needs a little suspension of disbelief to accept a young Javert.
The real problem is that Fraser's Javert was constantly really! really! really! angry! I mean really, unreasonably angry, and I mean all the time. There wasn't a scene he didn't seem irritated at the very least, even his Stars was a bit mad somehow. He almost made me laugh when he chased the people off the stage before Stars with a huge "RAWR"... And, as you can guess, the turmoil in his mind during Soliloquy didn't have a big impact since we hadn't seen him calm and collected at all.
I think this is at least as much the fault of the director's as it is of the actor's, though. I've a hard time believing a performance like this would've made it all the way to onstage if the director had paid proper attention to Fraser. Maybe the celebrity stars, Alfie Boe and Matt Lucas, took too much of the director's time and attention?
But yep, I'm afraid I have to say I missed home and Sören Lillkung a tiny bit during Javert's parts here.

Marius and Cosette - Craig Mather and Lisa-Anne Wood 
These two, then again, I liked a lot! They made a cute couple: Wood was a lovely, sweet Cosette, and Mather had that adorable awkwardness down nicely.
But seeing the original Les Mis after two years' break and after being pampered with the Finnish production the whole last year... I was harshly reminded of how bland Cosette's part is in West End. Very, very bland, to be precise.
Contasting to the ÅST version... Around here, Cosette has a colourful dress and a personality: we know she's a bit vain because she models on a new hat in her garden, but we also see that she has a sense of humor when she mocks Marius with the "my name is Marius Pontmercy" part in Every Day, which sadly has been cut from the original. The original Cosette, then again... A dress so black and conservative just her head and collar pop out of the darkness, no chances to establish any character whatsoever.
And, also, Marius and Cosette haven't many chances to really show their chemistry with the original blocking. In Finland, they share a waltz in the garden, and seal their part of One Day More with a passionate kiss. Here, they touch palms. I wish they had a little more moments in the London production, they're great characters and deserve better!

Éponine - Alexia Khadime 
Khadime was one of the modern, R'n'B sort of Éponines familiar to us from the 2010 Live! CD. I loved that since, as you know if you've read my album comparisons, I really like the Live! Éponine's voice, and, out of context, the riff in On My Own is to my liking. But I can see this dividing opinions - as someone pointed out last week, the more modern Éponine is, the more the audience, especially the young part of it, will identify with her and dislike Cosette.
But still, I liked Khadime's Éponine. I'm not a huge fan of the character, so it's enough for me On My Own sounds amazing, and hers did!

Fantine - Caroline Sheen
Going to explain my opinion with the good ol' "ÅST does everything better than you, and you can smell the scent of roses in the air there too" card again, but yes, I'm not a huge fan of Sheen's. Her acting was fine, but her voice just doesn't, in my opinion, hold a candle to Finnish Fantine's, Thérèse Karlsson's. This is of course a matter of opinion with not much rationalising behind it, just like my thoughts on Éponine, so you might think quite differently.

The Thénardiers - Matt Lucas and Leanne Rogers or Lucy Garrioch
The Thénardiess was played by an understudy, but I didn't catch her name - feel free to educate me about her identity!
Now I understand the disgust some fans have towards celebrity casting, I admit.
It's not that Lucas would've been totally bad in the role - we get to that in a minute -, it's more the audience's reaction. He got a huge applause when he appeared onstage. I don't like applausing an actor when they appear onstage at all. They haven't done anything yet, what are you cheering for! Maybe, if it's a senior theatre veteran like Angela Lansbury for example, it's a nice to give them a round of applause when they enter. I appreciate your amazing career, it's good to see you performing still, that sort of thing. But applauding an actor because they're familiar from TV or movies? No, I don't see why. Also, Thénardier getting as big an applause as Javert and Valjean? Huh?
But to the point. Lucas really nailed Thénardier's funny parts, making them as disgustingly funny as you could hope. But, in my eyes, he very much failed Dog Eats Dog by making that a comic number too. Why would you do that? It hasn't a single line that's meant as a laugh-out-loud joke, so why make it funny and keep Thénardier an one-sided clown instead of deepening his character?
Mme T. was great though - I'm so sorry I don't know who she was, but she was really good!

Enjolras and posse - Liam Tamne and co.
I've no complaints about any of these guys - Tamne was a nice Enjolras and Adam Linstead was a great Grantaire (in my opinion he looked just like Grantaire should, I think I'm adopting him as my new mental Grantaire!). I can't, sadly, say much about the barricade boys' interactions or adlibs, which are of course crucial to distinguish the good from the amazing, since I was up in the Grand Circle and didn't hear or see that many subtle details, so I'll just leave it at that they were very good.
One request though: couldn't someone train them to say Enjolras some other way than "Enjolr-ass"? I've so immature sense of humor it makes me laugh.

For the first time in my life, I actually stagedoored! My friends, with whom I travelled, weren't exactly keen on the idea, but I went to Les Mis without them. After calling them and finding out they're still in a movie theatre, I gathered my courage and went to the stage door. Thanks to Matt Lucas, there was a huge bunch of people, but I wasn't really interested in his autograph. Instead, I got Hadley Fraser's, Liam Tamne's, and Jonathan Williams's, with whom I'm posing here (look at me, I'm almost smiling! I'm starting to learn how to do this photograph thing).
I gushed like an insane fangirl, of course, but Williams was so nice I didn't feel too embarrassed. Heh, maybe after a couple of dozen of instances like this, I'll learn to behave myself around amazingly talented people, but I'm afraid that day is still far away...

All in All
Okay, here it comes... 
I have to say, even though the grandness and the beauty of the original production blew me away once again, I still like the ÅST production a tiny, tiny bit more. It's simply because the Fennoswedish cast is stronger. There's not a single weak link there. If a couple of them didn't know what they're doing in Åbo, I'd prefer the original production. I adore London's visual parts, the huge ensemble, the beautiful barricade and the big orchestra...
If I only could live near to both!

And hey, congrats once again to the guy whose friends sung Happy Birthday to him before the show started!

The ensemble picture isn't of the cast I saw, the individual pictures are. Neither are mine: the former is from Google images, the latter I've scanned from the souvenir programme I bought. Thanks for the nice girl at the stage door for taking the last picture!

Three Days of West End: Ghost

As I've mentioned, I just spent four days in London.
The results: six new CDs, aching feet, a severe case of West End hangover. I'll get over that eventually, but on the meanwhile, I'll review the shows I saw, starting with Ghost. I try to be quick, but I'll probably start ranting in no time, bear with me...

I had heard a lot of good about Ghost before seeing it - a couple of "it's awesome!"s and a whole lot of "I've heard it's amazing, I wish I'll get to see it soon!"s. Because it's kind of a principle of mine to see at least one show I know nothing of whenever I visit West End or Broadway, I decided Ghost be it this time.
Piccadilly Theatre was the same place I saw Grease a couple of years ago. I still kind of dislike the theatre itself: its steep auditorium makes me almost dizzy... But the show was so much better this time around!

As a whole, I enjoyed Ghost.
Actually, I started to cry when the first notes of the Overture started blaring through the air. Kind of silly, to feel so emotional to be in a West End theatre again...

I haven't seen the movie Ghost, so I can't say how much the stage musical differs from that, but I liked the story a lot. It's a beautiful story with really, really interesting supernatural elements. I just love unusual things like that, exploring the world with the eyes of a dead person was perfectly weird for my tastes.
The other thing I loved were the effects. They were the most amazing I've ever seen - I'm still wondering how they did some of them! I don't really want to say much about them so I won't spoil the moments for you, they're the best when you don't know what's coming up! I don't know if you can figure out their secrets if you sit in the first row, but from Grand Circle it looked just like magic.
What's more, I haven't a word of complaint about the actors. Everybody did a great job with their role, as far as I could tell high from the balcony...

But, to me, there were some problems with the show.
First of all, as my friend pointed out, the music was bland and repetitive. There were a couple of gorgeous tunes that stood out, but it did feel they were few and far between, since the other songs mostly sounded like each other. Actually, at one point I thought Ghost could maybe make a better straight play than a musical, which is not a really good sign when seeing a show with music...
The music's other problem, in my opinion, were the couple of lighter, happier songs that really stuck out like sore thumbs. One brought - in my opinion - unnecessary comic relief to a place that could've very well done without, the other - in my opinion again - brought needed comic relief, but unfortunately stretched it for way too many minutes. A little of that stuff goes a long way in a serious show, I think!
I also disliked the really clear, Christianity-inspired heaven and hell imagenary here and there. The show's name is Ghost, so it's of course going to explore the question about life after death, but I'd preferred if it hadn't chosen sides and picked any particular religion. And even if it did, I think projections of beast-like red teeth in the hell scene are a tad naive.

But still, despite the weird usage of comedy numbers and the slightly boring score, Ghost is worth checking out for the unbelievable effects alone. I think it's pure theatre magic, I won't stop wondering how on earth those tricks were possible!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Little Cosette

Whoa, whoa, whoa! I'm going to do a post with nothing to do with theatre whatsoever! It has, though, to do with Les Misérables, so I haven't completely lost my mind yet...

I’ve been watching an anime series based on Victor Hugo's novel, an anime series called Shōjo Cosette, with two of my friends. We’ve still about ten episodes to go, but I think I’ve seen quite enough to talk about my thoughts on the subject.

In my opinion, Shōjo Cosette is firmly among the most boring, most tedious Les Misérables adaptations imaginable.

There are things to like, I won’t deny that. Some of the character designs, like Enjolras with his shiny blonde hair and almost feminine beauty, have escaped straight from fans’ illustrations. The anime has more details from the book than any other adaptation, I'm sure, and doesn’t leave any characters out like so many other versions do.

But, to me, the bad part really surpasses the good.

First of all, the series has been made mostly kid friendly. Why on earth would you want to do that? You could have an interesting Les Mis series with focus on adults, or teenagers at least, but Les Misérables for kids? Why don’t create Saturday morning cartoons of The Divine Comedy, Crime and Punishment and The Shining while you’re at it? When I was a kid, I got bored when watching cartoons if there wasn’t humor, action or violence, well, all the time. I can’t see any kid really enjoying the drama of Valjean’s inner struggle, even though said struggle has been explained so clearly even a three-year-old should get what’s going on.

Shōjo Cosette's main character is, surprise surprise, Cosette. Okay. She isn’t the biggest nor the most interesting character in the book, but she could be made better with little rewrites. Right? Unfortunately, instead of giving her more personality, the anime takes away the little she has.
We start when Cosette is three years old and finish when she is reaching adulthood. During this time she doesn’t grow up at all - the most development I’ve noticed is that she doesn’t scream “yay!” so loudly as a teenager anymore.

In my eyes, she is like a bad mock-up of a Disney princess: standard beauty with blue eyes, blonde hair and so naïve, so childlike personality it hurts. In the book she, to me, seems naïve but also somewhat brave, has some sense of humor and can even get a little angry or annoyed at times.
In the anime she has no character whatsoever. When she's at the Thénardiers, she doesn’t rebel, she doesn’t get depressed. She just starves, gets beaten and is still happy and content, looking more adorable than a basket of tiny little panda bears. She worships her mother even when it seems like she abandoned her. And when Valjean adopts her, she is happy, occasionally she giggles, she speaks in her high-pitched voice, and doesn't grow any character at all. She doesn't even get nice dresses. Let alone being innocently seductive enough to make Marius sick with love!
We don't know what Cosette likes except from both Valjean and Fantine, whom she adores , what she dislikes, what she fears, what she hopes. We don't know anything about her hobbies or friends. She is just an empty shell of a character.

Luckily all the other characters aren’t quite as annoying. As far as I’m aware, Les Amis seem to be pretty okay, and I don’t completely hate Javert, Valjean or Marius. They're bland, that's for sure. It's also quite clichéd how the good (Les Amis) must be beautiful like rainbows and unicorns combined, unless they're old (Valjean), when they must be pleasant-looking, while the bad (Javert) must be butt-ugly. It might feel a bit tiring, but I can live with it...
The Thénardiers are vile, which is good, but somehow so annoying I’d just want to punch them unconscious. It may have to do with Madame's shrill voice, which feels like someone's scratching my eardrums, or with the fact that their theme music is ten seconds in lenght and gets looped again and again and again in their every. Single. Scene.

But for example Gavroche and Éponine fill me with unadulterated annoyance. Both have high sense of moral all of a sudden. Gavroche is, besides magically avoiding getting older, and besides looking like a squirrel, almost wimpy. He simply wouldn't shout sassy remarks at anyone or sing dirty songs. For example, instead of greeting Thénardier with “oh hey, it’s dad, well whatever” when saving him from the jail, he gives him a speech on ethics.
Éponine, too… She has a bit of her original insanity and jealousy coming through every now and then, but she's still far from the novel's poor little street girl. She is beautiful, of course, and so very good and pure and amazing she doesn’t even eat the food Montparnasse gives her because it’s, oh my, stolen. In the most confusing part, she confesses Cosette she was jealous of her, and especially her caring mom, when they were kids. What.

The plot doesn’t really have clear ups and downs. There is no humor, unless you count Grantaire’s drunken speeches, which may or may not be unintentionally hilarious. There are even chances to put some jokes in: for example, when Valjean goes to buy Cosette a present, I'm sure you could poke fun at him being confused of ladies' fashion instead of treating the audience to the following dialogue between our hero and the shop saleslady:
"Are you buing a gift for your wife?"
"For your daughter?"
There is no feeling of suspense either. Say what you want of the 1998 movie, but there most of the action is at least a little exciting. In this show, things just happen. The pace is incredibly slow. Everything is shown, nothing is implied or left at the viewer's own imagination. Even action-filled scenes, like Valjean escaping Javert through the streets of Paris and the barricade, feel slow and boring.

Everything seems to take an episode or more to happen, and more than one episode are dedicated to completely unrelated, uninventive Cosette-centric storylines. Cosette gets a dog. Cosette learns to write. Cosette eats a dessert. Cosette plants flowers. Cosette helps a little kid whose mother left, just like Cosette's. Cosette wants a new parasol. Cosette sits and stares at the wall. I understand filler episodes are a thing in anime series, but this is getting ridiculous...

Some parts where the creators of this could have had fun, like the characterisations Les Amis, have been sadly neglected. You could give them lots of things to do: besides Grantaire drinking, which he does everywhere, all the time, you could, for example, have Joly checking his tongue in the background, Combeferre reading, Bossuet being bald, Bahorel in daring waistcoats (we still haven't figured out who is Bahorel here), Jehan watering some flowers. But no. They just stand or sit, looking like each other.
There is not much background action or detail. Too often, during big group shots, no one moves at all. The nicest details we've noticed are some posters and pictures in rooms - the most confusing is found in Marius's room, a poster that has "JAVERTAS" written on it. Paris Police Forces have a football team? Funny posters, though, aren't quite enough to keep one entertained in the long run...

The cinematography is some of the most dull I’ve ever seen. There are no surprising angles, colours or lighting. Come on this is animation, you can do whatever you want! But no. The only innovative moment so far was when Enjolras and Javert spoke about how their actions make France a better place to live, and they kept cutting from one to another, contrasting the two characters. Otherwise, we have standard shots from standard angles with no zooms and hardly any pans. There was a sunset with red tones in colouring once, but otherwise the colours are mostly found from from a pack of 24 crayons.
Take Cosette and Marius’s scenes, for example. You could give them a beautiful garden, flowers and birds... Maybe some of those pink flying leaves you see in cliché anime pics could even work? There could be a sunset, a sweet pink glow on everything, Cosette blushing and then them kissing when the first star appears in the purple sky... The whole scenery could be really romantic! But, again, nope. You get a normal, clean garden with no flowers, birds, romance or mystery whatsoever, with some watered-down  Marius and Cosette dialogue what happened to the sweet awkwardness from the book, where did Marius's speech and Cosette's "oh, mother!" go?

The music is, sadly, annoying at the best too. The tunes are really short and get repeated in certain character's scenes until you want to poke your ears deaf, even if some of them seem pretty when you first hear them.
The voice acting is mediocre. I've a feeling the actors aren't bad, but the material they're working with is too thin for them to shine. No one gets to shout, no one gets to whisper, hardly anyone even ever laughs. Kudos for the person who made the English subtitles though, they're excellent!

Finally, the animation. It doesn’t have quite enough frames per second to seem natural, and things like the lack of lip synch felt a little jarring to me. The budget, apparently, hasn't been really big, since the camera is often behind the speaking character, or things are said in voiceover while showing a still picture, probably to avoid animating costs. Even characters walking seems unnatural.
The characters aren't, ironically, very animated. The range of expressions and effects used is tiny. The creators of the series probably thought exaggerated effects would make the show too cartoonish, but hey, it is a cartoon. If you can't use much expressions, or have a compelling dialogue, please do something to give us the illusion the characters actually feel things!

As a whole… You could have a brilliant animated series of Les Misérables, I'm sure of that. This is not it. With only ten or twenty episodes and a focus on older viewers, this could've been good, but as it is, Shōjo Cosette is a boring mess.

Even though, at 52 episodes, the anime is probably the adaptation that keeps the most details from the book, it lacks almost all feeling. The death of some characters has actually felt relieving to me and my friends - we don't have to listen to them anymore! It also takes forever to watch (we were crazy to take this as a project, I'm ready to admit that), so if you’re a really fast reader, you probably can do a quick reread of the original novel in the time it takes to watch this series.

Others may have different thoughts, but my opinion on this series is that your time is better wasted elsewhere.

The pictures have been found from all over the internet. I own none of them.
P.S. I'll be leaving for London tomorrow, and I'll see four shows I've a feeling the blog may be about musicals really soon again...