Saturday, December 17, 2011

Two Quick Reviews

To decelerate this blog's descent into a full-blown manifestation of my monomania, I'm going to quickly review two shows I've seen recently that aren't about miserable people in 19th century France...
Cabaret and Striking 12, everybody!

Cabaret, Lahden kaupunginteatteri

I saw Cabaret some weeks ago with my mom and her friend.
My mom is not a theatre fan, and I hardly ever can get her to see anything with me. In retrospect, I wish I'd spend my energy trying to convince her to see something else than this - this production of Cabaret will hardly cure anyone from their dislike towards musicals.

My first problems were with the source material itself.
I wasn't familiar with the show or the movie beforehand, and a part of my reason of going to see it was that I wanted to get to know this musical classic. Well, I wasn't completely disappointed - the story is, mostly, interesting and has some very touching moments.
However, I didn't thoroughly enjoy the music. There are a couple of songs that don't really make sense. They come out of nowhere, have hardly anything to do with what is happening, and disappear with no mention of them afterwards. Maybe they were originally written for the movie, which I hear is really different from the stage show, and installed into the stage script afterwards? Other than that, I found the music a little bit too repetitive for my tastes, even though there are good tunes here and there. I also wish the music brought the story forward a little more effectively. As it is, it, in my opinion, uses a little too much time reprising what the dialogue scenes have already told us.

But how about the production, then?
Well... There are good parts. I somewhat enjoyed seeing Jorma Uotinen as the Emcee, and Ritva Sorvali and Tapio Aarre-Ahtio were quite heartbreaking as the older couple. The ensemble did mostly good job with the dance scenes.
But the main couple of the story, Maija Rissanen as Sally Bowles and Jussi Puhakka as Cliff... Sadly, they're one of the couples with the least amount of chemistry I've ever seen in any piece of theatre. I just didn't see anything between the two characters. Sure, they have their love songs and arguments, but, judging by their stage presence, they could've been old class mates as well. I didn't really get the feeling the two characters much cared for each other at any point - let alone being head over heels in love!

I wouldn't suggest seeing this from the few first rows, which is the mistake we did. First of all, the choreography can be quite risqué at times, so I can see some would feel awkward, being too close... But, for me, the problem was that it was hard appreciating the choreography as a whole, almost sitting onstage myself. I suppose from the middle of the auditorium you'd get a better picture of what's happening. I, thanks to my seat, failed to see the big picture.
The staging is mostly nice, but I got the feeling the stage was unnecessarily big. A big part of it was hardly utilized at all. For the final scene the huge, empty stage made a great, haunting impact, though!

In a nutshell, not a production I'd really recommend. It has some good parts, but it fails to reach the piece's - even though a little flawed in itself - full potential.

Striking 12, Helsingin kaupunginteatteri

It's actually surprisingly hard to describe Striking 12. It's one of the most unconventional musicals I've seen.
It's great.
I mean, how many times shows you've seen have begun with the actors and the audience singing Happy Birthday together to a member of the cast?

Striking 12 is a show with many layers.
The first layer is that there are three people - Samuel Harjanne, Petrus Kähkönen and Veera Railio - who are doing a show. They're singing, playing instruments, joking with each other, talking to the audience... The second layer is them, during their show, acting a story of a man who doesn't like the winter holiday season and is spending New Year's Eve alone. The third level is that the man starts reading The Little Match Girl, and then the events of that story are acted out for the audience, too.
It's a quite confusing thing to explain but, seeing it, it makes sense, and it's fun to follow the layers changing.
The show is both funny and touching, with a big amount of laugh-out loud moments but also a sweet message. The music is great all the way through. Especially the fact that the keyboards and drums are accompanied with a less traditional instrument, an electric violin, makes the show sound very interesting. Wonder if it's too late to ask Santa for the original cast recording?
Props for the translation, by the way! Given that every other Finnish musical translation seems to be a little cringe-worthy at some point, this one by Jukka Virtanen and Kristiina Drews felt surprisingly flowing, somehow. Really, good job.

It's not just the piece that's great, though. Each of the three performers does an amazing job, I really couldn't pick a favourite here even if I tried!
I admit I shot the biggest amount of I'm-judging-you type stares at Harjanne's general direction because he'll be playing Enjolras in ÅST for the show's final four weeks next winter (ha-ha! I could make this about Les Misérables after all!) - but, after seeing this show, I think us Les Mis fans don't have to worry about the casting change.

In short, one of the most enjoyable musicals I've seen this year (even though I can't say the holiday-positive theme of the piece would have cured me of my mild dislike towards Christmas). The auditorium was sadly empty yesterday, this'd deserve a person sitting in every seat. If you live anywhere near Helsinki, don't hesitate but go see this now, while you still can!

Cabaret photos: taken by Tarmo Valmela.
Striking 12 photos: taken by Ville Akseli Juurikkala.
Just for the record: when I saw Les Mis in London this summer, it begun with the second balcony belting Happy Birthday to some lucky fellow called John. I've never sung for an actor before, though!


  1. Striking 12! I got all excited when you mentioned it. I don't know. As you said, this is very unconventional. I saw it when it came through College Station a few years ago, and afterwards I wish I'd signed up to work another show. I really wasn't expecting to be taken by this show, but apparently I was. Even now, after four years of not thinking about it, I get excited about its being mentioned here.

    In fact, I liked it so much, that I got up the nerve to tell the band afterward. I have such a problem even just talking to people, but telling people I think they're awesome is even harder. Hah.

    1. Glad you've seen it too, I don't think that many people have!
      Also, awesome you told them you liked the show - I bet they appreciated! :) I know the feeling, it's not easy, I get all awkward too...