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...


  1. This sounds absolutely brilliant! I need to make sure I see this when I come to Finland.

  2. Exciting! I had such a huge crush on Antti LJ Pääkkönen when he won the Tenavatähti singing contest in the 90s, so it'll be fun to see him as the Genie. At least he should have enough sense of humour for the role.

    Generally I'm gald that there are smaller musical production companies like this, and I wish them all the good!

  3. ... Is there anything Samuel can't do? ::D ♥ He's a talented fellow.

    The whole production sounds amazing! I'm so excited about Anna Viktoria Eriksson, she was absolutely brilliant as Eponine!

    I wonder if I should book a ticket to the premiere... We'll see!

  4. And thank you for the lovely comment! :) Can't wait, either!

  5. Thank you for the wonderful words! We strongly believe in this production and the message it brings to people about bilingualism, and it warms our hearts to read such lovely words of our "baby". Thank you for attending our pressconference and looking forward to seeing you in the opening night! Anett from Polar Illusions

    1. No problem, thanks to you for inviting me! :) Can't wait for the premiere!