Monday, September 19, 2011

Dancing Vampires

Last Saturday I left for one of the most awaited musical trips of the year: I boarded a train to Seinäjoki, over 300 kilometers from where I live, to see the Finnish version of Tanz der Vampire.

I'm, by no means, an expert on the subject.

I know Tanz is wildly popular in some countries and has a strong fanbase, I know it's based on a movie from the 60's, I know it had a horrible Broadway adaptation that ran for a really short time a few years back, and... Well, that's all. I don't think I'm the best person to lecture the reader about the history of this show.

However, knowing that Tanz is loved by many, I was really excited about the Finnish version. I knew the same theatre had done, with the same director (Olli-Matti Oinonen), a very popular version of The Rocky Horror Show in the 90's - so popular that it was even recorded, a really rare event in Finland. Also, even though I often try to avoid reviews before seeing the shows myself, I had caught glimpses of a couple posivite fan comments beforehand.

So, despite Seinäjoki being a pretty small town (around 60 000 inhabitants) and sometimes described, by us who live near Helsinki and think we're indefinitely more awesome than the rest of the country, as a boring trap situated handily in the middle of nowhere... I was very hopeful. As usual, I tried to keep my expectations down, but I don't remember feeling this positive about a production I've never seen before in a while.

What I wondered, though, was the theatre's decision to name the show Dance of the Vampires instead of using the original Tanz der Vampire or a native translation, Vampyyrien tanssi in Finnish, as all other productions seemed to have done. While Vampyyrien tanssi is used at some places, it's mostly known as Dance - I can't see why, using English seems a bit pretentious to me. But you can't judge anything by its name alone, so moving on.

I don't remember being this entertained by a piece of musical theatre in a long while.

The piece is almost perfect: it's got an amazing mix of humor and more serious moments to keep a full grip of the watcher's attention. No song stuck in my head in an earworm-ish way after the show, but the score is definitely very good. I've no problem understanding why so many people like this musical, it has everything needed for a great night at theatre.

Plot-wise, it's The Phantom of the Opera in a little different setting. You have the beautiful girl; the cute, sincere young man who'd do anything for her; the menacing, dark, sexy creature of the night... But what, in my opinion, makes this even better than The Phantom is the usage of humor. Tanz has a perfect balance: it doesn't take itself seriously but doesn't slip into too campy territory either. Unlike Phantom, Tanz lets you laugh. It has the exciting moments between the girl and the mysterious older man, it has the cute love duets between the girl and her young admirer... and it has scenes so funny you can't breathe in between your fits of laughter.

Also, what pleased me greatly about the piece was the usage of music. I love sung-through pieces, so Tanz is perfect for my tastes, and I really enjoyed the underscored moments too. There are scenes that had action but no dialogue, and the action was set to a background music. This is of course often seen with dance scenes in musicals, but here some slapstick moments also have underscore, which I hadn't really seen done before but enjoyed a lot.

And it's not just the source material that's good. It's a really unconventional choice for a small theatre, I think, and I'm really glad Seinäjoki City Theatre had the courage to do it. They do the show beautiful justice.

We saw the show only a week from the premiere, so there's reason to suspect the performances will only get more refined in the future, but that's not to say they weren't really good already. I think I enjoyed Esa Ahonen as the Professor and Ville Salonen as Alfred the most - the former was simply hilarious (and his first song really amazed the audience, me included), and the latter was the epitome of the word adorable. If I have to say something negative, I think Heikki Vainionpää's Chagal was a bit too over-acted for my tastes. Then again, the part seemed to be written in an over-the-top way anyway, so it didn't bother me too much.

As a whole, the whole cast's energy really radiated to the auditorium. Everyone seemed to be giving their best and enjoying what they were doing.

I bought a CD of the show while I was in Berlin this summer, and, having finally listened to it, I have to say I honestly prefer the Finnish voices. If there ever was a Finnish show worth a cast recording, this is it. Pretty please! I especially enjoyed Jyri Lahtinen's (the Count) voice - one of the best I've heard in Finnish theatre.

Also, contributing to the quality of the songs, Marika Hakola's Finnish translation was, no doubt, the best one I've ever heard. There wasn't one awkward moment, but every song sounded as natural as if the libretto was originally written in Finnish. I was truely impressed.

Finally, the sets and costumes were nothing short of beautiful, and the choreography was just as good. If I've had some prejudice towards small theatres previously, this production really blows them away. The show looked and sounded so good I doubt any of the biggest theatres of Finland could've done any better job, and I've actually even seen a West End musical looking way worse than this.

In a nutshell, I recommend this musical to everyone, everywhere.

If you, by any means, can get to Seinäjoki, do it. I doubt you'll be disappointed. Personally, I'm planning of seeing the show at least once more (in ten days, to be exact. I don't think I could wait for any longer), though I'm sure that's not going to be enough. Too bad the distance is stopping me from seeing this every weekend!

Photos by Ari Ijäs, Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri.


  1. That's so comfortable to read your opinion about this musical. I live and Seinäjoki, and today I'm going to go to watch Dance of the Vampires with my friends - and this isn't even the first time I go. It's the second one, and before Christmas I will go to watch it once again. I can't stop loving it, because that really was entertaining and impressive show.
    My favourite was Jouko Enkelnotko as Herbert von Krolock. He was cute, funny and maybe a little bit extraordinary, so I picked him as my favourite.

  2. Anonymous: if I lived in Seinäjoki, I think I'd see this every weekend - the distance is the only thing that's keeping me away! :D Have an amazing time today!!