Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tanz and Fans

I saw the Finnish version of Tanz der Vampire in Seinäjoken kaupunginteatteri yesterday again, for the fourth time. My last time.

That's a shame. I love Tanz. After seeing it for the first time, I rushed back the next week, I was that impressed. It's the most entertaining musical I've ever seen. What's more, the Seinäjoki production is so filled with insanely talented people that it's been pure joy to watch, every time.
The production closing is a shame for another reason, too.
Continuing the trend Wicked started, though with an even grander force... Tanz seems to have a huge fanbase, by Finnish standards at least. It's a musical that gathers fans wherever it's being produced, and I'm glad it's been brought here. I find it really nice that the standard Finnish way of going to theatre - the buses full of often uninterested senior citizens (I've heard of a play's start being postponed because they had to wait for a bus of seniors stuck in the traffic) - is changing a little, at least in some cases.

During the last few months, the ÅST Les Mis started gathering a small fandom. A small fandom: doing a headcount of the fellow fans I know, eight people. Seeing I can't know everybody, I guess it's safe to suppose the production had about twenty big fans by the end.
This Saturday alone, at least twenty big Tanz fans gathered in Seinäjoki. Probably more. Just sitting in my seat, I was surrounded by fans: behind me sat a kid with his mother who had seen the show four times. Next to me, a guy who had been there seven times. Chatting with them cheered up my day. Normally, strangers don't talk to each other in theatre (or anywhere else, for that matter) in Finland, but yesterday, it was surprisingly easy. "How many times have you seen this?" turned out to be a great conversation-starter!
What makes this, in my opinion, extraordinary, is that yesterday was just a normal day. It wasn't the last show or anything, just a standard matinee performance. With probably a half of the audience seeing the show not for the first time. Some with vampire makeup.

Talking to a couple of fans during the intermission, and just looking around, keeping my eyes and ears open... I'm actually a bit sad that I'm not a full-time member of the group. It seems like a fun fandom to be a part of!
I've seen Tanz and I appreciate it, but I don't love it in the same way I love Les Mis. That's also why I've been distracted from it. By normal people standards, four times is already a lot - but if Les Mis didn't exist in Finland at the same time as Tanz, I'd probably done twice as many visits to Seinäjoki during these past few months. As it it, however, I don't feel I'm involved enough to call myself a huge fan: I haven't seen any other productions, I don't have clear knowledge about actors who have played the roles before. I just enjoy the Finnish version. And even then - I haven't even drawn proper fanart of it...
Despite that, I'm in a state of refusal about having seen the show for the last time. Yesterday was, performance-wise too, the best time I've ever had seeing the musical. I want more! I feel there's still a lot for me to discover. I'd need a couple times more to observe all the details and then a couple more to think about what they actually mean.
But, unless a miracle happens, Tanz'll close next month. We got to keep the ÅST Les Mis for a year and a half. I've a feeling Tanz would have what it takes to keep going just as long, and probably longer. People from all around Finland were present yesterday, it's not as if only people who live near Seinäjoki come to see the show. And still, Tanz's fans can't even have one full season.
I don't know about you, but this seems unfair to me.

Dear Tanz fans, scream a little on my behalf in the derniere, too?

Picture from Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri's website.
My review of the Seinäjoki Tanz: click!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

ÅST Les Mis: A Love Letter

Dear Åbo Svenska Teater's production of Les Misérables,

I suppose you know that you are my favourite musical production of all times.

Now that you've closed for good, I could spend ages speaking about how sad I feel, how upset I am that I'll never sit in the auditorium again, breathing in theatre smoke and feeling amazing.

But, reminiscing about all the times I've spent with you, either visiting you or just talking, writing and thinking about you, I feel something else is more important here. More than anything, more than mourning what has been taken from me now when I can't see you anymore and when memories of every single detail I'd want to remember forever are becoming fainter by each day... I need to thank you for all that you gave me.

I don't know if you know it, but you gave me lots.

Your first gift to me was letting me feel truely independent for the first time in my life.

The first time my parents let me stay overnight in another town all on my own, without even a friend to keep me company - it was because I wanted to see you. I know that sounds like a lonely, boring way to spend a weekend, going to a theatre all alone... But, to me, it wasn't. It was glorious. Still is.
But especially back then... That weekend, for the first time, I was trusted to be able to take full care of myself. For once, I could do exactly what I wanted to. I could come and go as I wished, without having to explain my actions to anyone. I could sit in the theatre foyer for an hour before the show, just breathing in and out and feeling good.

I have never enjoyed the show as much as back then. After the performance had ended I took a long walk around the city and just felt amazing. Can it be called a walk, though? My feet hardly touched ground.

Thank you for being a part of what I still hold as one of the best moments in my life.

Your second gift was showing me that sometimes the impossible happens.

I've always been a sceptical, pessimistic person. I still am. But, nowadays, I simply don't say that something will never happen anymore.

I know that what happened to me is simply one fangirl's silly dreams coming true. To some people it must seem small and insignificant. Meeting some actors, who cares? But, you see, my attitude had been quite different. Before last year, people I admired existed in their own reality and I existed in mine. I could write fanmail or adoring blog entries, but I'd never get to meet them for real, they'd never know or care about that I exist. That just was the way the things were... in my own, pessimistic mind.

Getting a message from one of you, then another message, then an invitation to meet you all, then a backstage tour, then a free ticket, then... Those were some of the most exciting, nervewracking, insane, fun weeks of my life. I still have a hard time believing that it was real, that I was the lucky fangirl to get it all. My life has been a little insane ever since that first message, in the best possible way. Especially going to the theatre... During the last few months, every new performance was a small adventure for me. Just going to the theatre and leaving wasn't an option, there was always a little something exciting in store.

And during your last week of performances you welcomed me and my friend (whose presence was nothing short of being another miracle, we'll come to this) to meet you again. I'm grateful. Even though my brain replays the moments I think I embarrassed myself somehow on a regular basis, I'm glad I got to meet you. I know I was a giggling mess, but I hope you understood how much the production means to me, anyway.

Thank you for letting me live a couple of dreams and showing me that anything can happen.

Your third gift to me is the most important one of them all. Without you, I would lead a much more lonely life.

I'm not a very social person by any means. I don't make friends that easily, I'm not friends with popular kids. I can't be open about myself easily or always say the right things at the right times...
But, through you, I've met many people. Many amazing people that I wish will stay a part of my life even now when you have closed. Running into them in the theatre, gushing about the show with them, getting messages from them, planning future adventures with them... My life is more fun now, thanks to the people you helped me to find.

I also want to thank you for the amazing times I've had with you and my old friends. I bet some of them are tired of my constant talking about you... But coming to see you with them has been a lot of fun, too. I can't help grinning when I think about those days!

Above all, however, I'm grateful for the two people that I can call some of the best friends I have ever known.

Even though I first met them both through some other matter than you... I can't know if we would ever have crossed the line from acquaintances to true friends without you. It could be - but as it is, you were maybe the most important thing for us to talk about when becoming friends.

You're so woven into my relationship with these people that I can't even think about them without thinking about you. First, I only knew them through the internet, but even back then, we had some amazing times. The nights coming back from the theatre and telling everything about the day's performance to them in great detail... Sharing every single new production photo we could find with each other... Calling them to an emergency chat meeting when we got messages from you, when I met with you all, when one of our favourites was leaving... Discussing, speculating, fangirling.
Even meeting them for the first time was all about you. The one I met first... I met her for the first time when we went to see you together. We had been looking forward to it for months and months, and you didn't disappoint - we had a magical day, a day to cherish in memories forever. The other... After giving up, lack of faith, insane plans and waiting for months and months, she flew from America to see you... and to meet me, along the way. We visited you together and had a magical week, a week we will always remember.

There usually aren't too many people in your life that you know you can tell everything to. With your help, I have found two more of them. That alone is a reason to be eternally grateful.

Thank you for them.

Your last gift, though still noteworthy, was giving me - along with every other person who ever saw you - an amazing version of my favourite musical. The most amazing I've ever encountered.

You were very close to being perfect. Your few little flaws were easily forgiven on the grounds that, as a whole, you always left me feeling ecstatic when I left the theatre. No other piece of theatre has ever made me feel that good, lifted me that far off the ground. You deserved every single clap, scream and standing ovation the audiences gave you - and, judging by how much I saw those happening, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought you were brilliant.

After you, seeing Les Misérables will never feel the same.

Thank you for those thirteen beautiful performances you gave me.

I hope you can see how much you are being missed.

With all my love and then some more,

Thursday, February 2, 2012

RENT and Why I Love It

During the last twelve months, I've seen three productions of RENT.
They've ranged from weird and messing with the original piece - the one I saw in Athens - to energetic and enthusiastic and still messing with the original piece - the one I saw in Lahti, Finland - to kind of nice and yet again messing with the original piece, Musik- och kulturskolan Sandels' student production I saw this week in Helsinki. What's more, there'll be a new professional RENT in Helsinki later this year - a big must-see for me.
However, despite seeing it practically all the time and often listing it as one of my favourite musicals.... I sometimes catch myself thinking about how much I dislike RENT.

I think my friend put it the best:
"Just close your eyes and enjoy it. Don't think. Whatever you do, don't think. It can't take being thought about."
I find that statement painfully accurate.

In my opinion, RENT has great music. Sadly, to counteract that, it's filled with pretentious characters and implausibilities - for example, are we really supposed to believe the whole first act happens during one single night? It can of course be seen as unfair, criticising the flaws in RENT's plot. Many musicals are still rewritten after the premiere, but, due to the writer and composer Jonathan Larson's untimely passing away, that couldn't happen here. Still... One can't deny RENT has its fair share of plotholes.
To me, though, the show's biggest problem is being unbearably preachy. No day but today! And if the message isn't clear to you by now, no worries, we'll repeat it for you about five hundred times before the curtain falls! Actually, the show's moral reads like a selection of The Beatles classics - love me do, she loves you, all you need is love-yeah-yeah-yeah!
I think the problems with RENT's moral largely stem from slapping a message of love conquering all on La bohème, the opera RENT is based on, and calling it a day. That hardly makes sense. In the opera, no one has a happy relationship. No one comes back from the grave to the arms of their love. The characters are quite miserable and realise how close they were to happiness only when it's too late. But RENT... It doesn't question the power of love. The final scene leaves the cast belting about its glory, though judging by all we've seen, the couples are probably going to break up the next morning. Yet again.

I think the simple decision of letting Mimi die for real would improve RENT by heaps. I've seen one production do that so far, and I applaud the decision. Seeing the amount of meddling the directors do with RENT in general, I'm surprised every production I've seen didn't kill Mimi off...
As the story is, Angel's death doesn't wake the characters up. Angel helped us believe in love. I can't believe you disagree. But the characters continue quarreling as if nothing had happened. Maybe it's because, in a way, Angel's is not a cautionary tale. Although her life was cut short, she had the time to be happy - someone stayed beside her until the last moment. I'd be happy to die for a taste of what Angel had. 
But if Mimi dies... Due to them both being proud and stubborn, she didn't have the time to be happy with Roger. No day but today - and those two failed it quite spectacularily. Mimi dying changes the tone of the show, makes it darker and more thought-provoking. It hammers in the live each day as it were your last ideology in so much more powerfully than repeating the lyric an innumerable number of times ever can.

So, as I mentioned, I saw Musik- och kulturskolan Sandels' student production this week. It wasn't bad, I give it that. Most of the young stars did a good job in their roles. I was especially impressed by Filip Rosengren as Roger - I just loved his take of the character -, and Cassandra af Hällström's Maureen was a lot of fun to follow, too.
But, as so often happens with RENT is, the piece was changed, at some points in ways that made no sense. Even though, as you now know, I'm all for changing certain details in the piece... Cutting stuff for no reason just makes me angry. I admit I like it when Contact is gone, I find that painfully awkward. But otherwise, I think the songs should stay intact. In this production, many little scenes and moments had disappeared - parts of One Song Glory, La Vie Bohème, Goodbye Love, just to name a few - and then there were two encores. What sense does that make? Use the time you have productively, do the whole piece. Cut the unnecessary reprises if you have to.
What's worse, I think Ylva Edlund's direction had a severe case of ADHD. During duets, there always seemed to be something unrelated going on in the background, dancing and comedic routines and whatnot... I'm sure the audience won't implode of boredom, even if you give them a quiet moment or two every now and then.

But even with this all, I enjoyed myself a lot.

Next time, though, let her stay like this.

You see... Even when the piece has been cut, even when the ending hasn't been changed and Mimi wakes up... I can't help loving RENT. I can't help feeling gleeful whenever I find out I can see it live again. Back in the days of the Lahti RENT, I couldn't help rushing to see it twice in two weeks' time.
The feeling of seeing RENT live is something the movie or the Filmed Live on Broadway DVD can never give me. If you're lucky and your cast is full of energy, you're going to leave the theatre feeling ecstatic. The magic is all about feeling the cast believes what they have to say. The piece is wildly flawed, but if the actors manage to portray it with sincerity... It becomes something more than a sum of its parts. It's easy to forgive the silliness and preachiness and enjoy the ride.

RENT. A guilty pleasure, for sure.
But also, at its best, an uplifting experience.

Pictures are by Vladimir Pohtokari, from Musik- och kulturskolan Sandels' website.
More about the Athens and Lahti RENTs at this entry if you're interested.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hop a Carpet and Fly

Some months ago, I heard rumors that Disney's Aladdin would be getting a stage production in Alexander Theatre, Helsinki. I thought "nice" and then moved on with my life, forgetting all about that piece of gossip - there would surely be more info than vague rumors if I just waited patiently.
Last week there was an invitation to the press release event for Aladdin in my e-mail.
Maybe it's needless to say that at first I panicked, then I hyperventilated and then I panicked some more. First of all, that means someone actually reads this blog. Secondly, that means that someone thinks my blog is quality enough to invite me to a real press release event. That's a pretty high honor!

So, to the event I went.
And boy, am I looking forward the premiere now!

When the invitation hit my inbox I was actually a little baffled. It said that Aladdin is going to be a bilingual musical, done in both Finnish and Swedish. Bilingual? How could that work? Would they have performances in both Finnish and Swedish, or would they somehow switch the language at some points during the show? On the scale of one to ten, how awkward would that be?
I also wondered a bit about the musical choice itself. I had heard about the 45-minute-long Aladdin stage show that plays in California's Disneyland. I had also heard that there is a Broadway version in the works. How amazing that they'll let a Finnish company to do the Broadway show before the Broadway premiere, I thought.
I had no idea that an American theatre company had, in 2009, done a full-lenght stage version of Aladdin in Houston, Texas. A bilingual production where Jafar had gotten a hold of the magic lamp and separated the people of Agrabah, leaving them unable to understand each other. Aladdin and the people on the street spoke English and Jasmine and her court spoke Spanish. That is the version Polar Illusions, a new Scandinavian theatre production company, is bringing to Finland as their first production.
I've seen something like that done before. I saw In The Heights on Broadway some years back, and there a part of the characters spoke Spanish. I didn't quite enjoy myself, but I don't know if it was more about the unconventional language decisions, the overall quality of the piece, or my jet lag... I also saw the latest Broadway revival of West Side Story where a part of the characters spoke Spanish. While I still think the piece is just as good if they all speak the same language, it wasn't distracting at all there.

That said, I'm actually really glad they found a bilingual piece to perform in Finland.
While I'm sadly mediocre in Swedish personally, I think having two official languages is a pretty nice in general. I love having Swedish theatres in Finland since that expands the casting opportunities: in Swedish productions we can see Nordic actors we wouldn't otherwise see in Finland. But, even though Aladdin will be done by an all-Finnish cast, I think the idea of two languages in one show is worth trying out. Who says Swedish theatre and Finnish theatre always have to be separated to different buildings? It may not work out perfectly, of course, but I love the idea and look forward seeing how it's done.
The director of the production, Samuel Harjanne, said that having the street urchin Aladdin speak Finnish and the princess Jasmine speak Swedish is simply because the script is written in a way that Aladdin speaks the majority language of whichever area the musical is being done at. All bättre folk stereotypes aside, that makes sense to me - the minority in the palace speaks the minority language of the country, sounds pretty sensible. However, Harjanne promised that even if you can only speak one of the languages, the show is written in a way that you can still keep up with the plot and jokes. Let's hope so!
What's more, Harjanne said that the original Finnish and Swedish translations of the movie's songs - all, what, five of them? (As an addition, this production will reinstall the songs that were cut from the movie back in 1992) - will remain. I understand the nostalgia approach Harjanne talked about, that it's important that well-known songs sound like people remember them... But I don't know. The Finnish dub for Aladdin isn't horrible, but it has some forced lines (mainly in A Whole New World) and a couple of lines that relate strongly to the visuals going on onscreen. "Kohdasta tilaa a ja beekin kokonaan"? Oh well - maybe they'll come up with stage-appropriate visual jokes to go with the lyrics. At least, I hope they'll cut some of the most tired pop culture references from the original movie!

Enough of the languages, maybe. What else is interesting?
Well, as said, Samuel Harjanne will direct the show. Despite being only 24 years old, he has already directed a couple of productions and acted in lots of musicals. He seemed pretty excited about this project, I'm sure lack of enthusiasm won't bring this down!
The leads, Aladdin and Jasmine, will be played by Jon-Jon Geitel and Anna Victoria Eriksson. The former played the leading role in the 2011 movie Roskisprinssi, a film I haven't gotten around seeing yet... The later, then, is the Éponine understudy in Åbo Svenska Teater's Les Misérables. I was lucky enough to see her in the role a couple of weeks ago - hers was honestly the best Éponine I have ever seen! So, couldn't be happier about that bit of casting. Not to mention that they sung A Whole New World for us. It sounded beautiful already!
Antti LJ Pääkkönen will play Genie. Every single person I've ever talked to who has seen Aladdin, me included, absolutely loves Vesa-Matti Loiri in the role. No wonder even Disney praised Loiri's performance, it's brilliant! So, just saying that Pääkkönen has huge boots to fill here, I'm looking forward seeing how he'll make the role his own. Actually, I'm very curious to see how the Genie will be done onstage in general, him being an immaterial being to begin with...

All in all, I'm rather excited about this production. Of course it won't be as huge as the Broadway Disney shows, nor as big as what Helsinki City Theatre or something of that size could do. But, as a certain production I've seen a lot lately has taught me - you don't always need a huge stage and plenty of effects to make an impact. I'm a bit confused, though, that there only seems to be nine performances listed, in this year's August and September. Will there be more later, or is this a blink-and-miss-it sort of a production?
So. I like Aladdin a lot as a movie, and I'm pretty sure this version has all it takes to be lots of fun. At least, judging by the song we heard today, I'm sure it'll sound amazing even if all else fails!

 Listen for yourself!

Picture from Alexander Theatre's website. See the whole cast list there.
Also, the musical has its own site - though, so far, its only use seems to be that clicking the picture takes you to buy tickets...