Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I've heard so much good about Matilda the Musical.
Ten Olivier nominations and seven wins. People I know telling me it's amazing and I'll love it. MusicalTalk, a musical theatre podcast I like, praising it in their episode Matilda: We're Crazy for You, calling it the best British musical ever. Of course I went to see the show when I was in London.
I haven't been this disappointed in a musical in years.

I keep referring to the MusicalTalk review, I'm afraid, so maybe take a listen after you've done reading. It simply fascinates me how differently they see the show from me.
I can't believe they compare Matilda to Book of Mormon. I of course haven't seen Book of Mormon, I've just listened to it. But just judging by what I hear, I dare to claim that Broadway's newest hit musical is clever, hilarious, offensive and filled with catchy tunes. After having seen Matilda, I have no idea where the comparison comes from. West End's newest hit musical tries very hard to be funny, gives the watcher a pile of hasty plot threads to suffer through, and doesn't leave a single one of its songs playing in your head after you leave the theatre.

I guess Roald Dahl was everybody's favourite author when they were kids, and messing with a classic is always dangerous... But Matilda wasn't an especially important Roald Dahl book for me. I loved George's Marvellous Medicine, The Twits, Esio Trot, The Witches especially... But I only read Matilda on my own after I had grown too old for bedtime stories. Still, while it's not an especially nostalgic book for me, it's a nostalgic enough to make me slightly angrier than I would be if I had only read it in preparation for seeing the show.

The most striking problem in Matilda, to my mind, was how awkward the pacing of the plot was. I hadn't read Matilda in years when I went to see it, and here's what I remembered of it (here be spoilers, if your childhood reading didn't include Matilda): Matilda is a very smart girl who reads a lot and can move things with her eyes. Which part of that sentence sounds the most interesting to you? I don't know, maybe you're a fan of bookworms, but I was certainly looking forward the moving-stuff-with-a-glance action.
To my disappointment, the whole eye thing was rushed through in about six minutes near the end of the second act. Same thing with the whole Miss Honey sideplot. Instead, they wasted precious time with an unrelated intervention by the Russian mafia. What.
A story that Matilda was telling to Mrs. Phelps, a librarian, and to herself when she was feeling upset, took up a big part of the show. I think it was an useless add. I found it boring as tar, for starters. What's more, I disliked how they had changed Mrs. Phelps's character. In the book, she was a voice of reason, the only adult nice to Matilda before Miss Honey. In the musical, she's so silly she hardly qualifies as a grown-up.
In short, I felt hardly anything happened in the first act and too many things in the second.

I thought the songs suffered from the same problem as songs in Ghost did: they didn't move the story forward but brought it to a screeching halt to indulge in loud music and spectacle for three minutes. Then the dialogue started again and the plot got going. It's easy to make this mistake in musicals with lots of dialogue, which is one of the reasons why sung-through shows are my favourites.
In many cases, the songs in Matilda had hardly anything to do with the plot. The song Loud for example: Matilda's mother and her dancing partner/lover/whatever sung about how you can't be like Miss Honey to succeed in life but must be like Mrs. Wormwood. I found it painfully unnecessary. The moment is in the book, sure, but it's a part of a bigger scene: Matilda's parents explain why they dislike Matilda so. No explanation existed in the musical, and they wasted the perfect chance to put it in. Why.
I've heard praise for the lyrics and suppose they were clever - I didn't understand half of them from first time hearing. That always happens to me with Sondheim, who's often thought to be the cleverest lyricist around, so I guess Matilda is lyrically on a good level. I don't even mean this ironically. I just mean that, as a person whose native language isn't English, it was occasionally hard to understand what they were singing.

I don't have a single bad thing to say about the kid actors. They were all so young, and I sat there thinking that they're already more talented in what they do than I'll probably ever be in anything... They did an amazing job, every single one of them. They deserved every shreak and clap they got from the audience.
The adult cast wasn't bad either. They played their roles as caricatures, but that's what Matilda's characters are, so no problem there. Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull was the highlight of the cast, his performance was hilarious. His character had the few lines that actually made me laugh. (Needless to say, the rest of the audience loved everything going on and roared with laughter. I guess I'm rather alone in the world, disliking this show.)

I'm happy the musical drew some influence from Quentin Blake's illustrations when designing the characters. Blake's amazing illustrations are, to me, an essential part of any Roald Dahl story - I remember getting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from the library and feeling brutally cheated when I noticed the book lacked pictures. Glad to see the people behind the musical didn't ignore them! Mr. Wormwood looked like he had escaped Blake's sketchbook, and Miss Trunchbull also came disturbingly close.
Some of the other visuals and tricks were amazing, too. The moment with lasers is one of the neatest-looking things I've ever seen in theatre. I don't want to spoil it, I'll just say that there's also a stunt involving a kid that made my jaw drop.
But here we are, comparing Matilda with Ghost again: astounding visuals can only go so far if the piece in itself is flawed.

Since Matilda is so loved by everyone else than me, I guess everybody should see it for themselves if they can. It truely might be I'm the only one who dislikes it. But here you have it, MusicalTalk: there's at least one person who hasn't been won over by Matilda the Musical.

Pictures from Matilda the Musical's image gallery.
Related? My Ghost review.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Miserable Spring

In the past few weeks, a lot has happened in the Les Misérables front.

You remember, a month ago Tampereen Teatteri told us their musical for the 2013-2014 season would be Les Mis. Ten weeks without my favourite musical in my country and they tell us we'll get another one! I couldn't be luckier!
The only negative side of getting a new Finnish Les Mis was the translation. Jukka Virtanen's rhymes don't do the original any justice at all, I belive its place in the hall of fame of worst Finnish musical translations is widely accepted. Laughing at it was nice while it was just subtitles on the concert DVD, but the thought of it becoming a real libretto they sing onstage again... A couple of jokes about a petition for a new translation were made and I ranted about it here, but then something wiped that out of my head:

It was time for a short vacation in London.
I'm working on a couple of proper reviews, but here's what I have to say about West End Les Mis in a nutshell: I was confused to find out how much I've grown to dislike some of the original production's choices. After seeing the Åbo Svenska Teater version so many times, I felt the original is too over-the-top, too melodramatic, simply too big. Its faults - the students fighting a faceless enemy and dying as saint-like martyrs, sickly-looking dead soldier dolls in a severe need of dusting, grandness during the wrong momens (look out, it's a runaway caaaaaart...) - suddenly all that seemed more apparent to me than before.
Even though it had four understudies, and even though I was a bit disappointed I didn't get to see David Shannon as Jean Valjean again, the cast was reasonably strong. Earl Carpenter, who briefly returned to play Javert, once again claimed the number one spot in my list of favourites. It was like seeing the Javert from the book materialise onstage! But I feel the direction, the production surrounding the performances, doesn't compare to the ÅST version.

I returned home to some rumours I - surprisingly! - found alarming: Georg Malvius, the director behing ÅST's Les Mis, would direct the upcoming TT Les Mis. The third Les Mis of his career, I believe? You'd think, knowing what I think about ÅST, I would be glad... But I'm not sure.
It might be Malvius has new ideas and will give the show a different spin, but I'm afraid we'll get an ÅST revival. Despite my love towards the production, I think it's time for something new. Of course an ÅST replica might not happen, and anyway, Malvius giving us a production similar to ÅST might be better than a director with no vision at all messing up the whole thing... But somehow, I think it'd been refreshing to give a new director a chance. Oh well.

After thinking that through, I remembered the matter of the translation again. After a couple words of encouragement from friends, I got the thing online: A New Translation for Tampereen Teatteri's Les Mis. The petition is in Finnish, has English signing instructions for foreign supporters, and speaks for itself. Check it out.

The Les Mis madness shows no signs of slowing down, though... Tampereen Teatteri just told us they'll be doing the piece the West End way, with over 15 minutes of cuts compared to the full show (they claimed half an hour would go, but if they're truely doing the West End cut as they also say, that's an exaggeration. Luckily).
I can't help being disappointed. One of the many things I loved about ÅST's Les Mis was the show being practically complete. I hear some people would like a shorter Les Mis, I know some think it's too long and boring - but, it being my favourite show, the last thing for me to do is to jump out of joy when I hear it'll be practically impossible to see the whole thing live again. The TT Twitter claims the show will be "even better" with the cuts. I, on the other hand, dislike how the cuts get rid of some lovely moments, little scenes I love. The little character development Cosette has is, for example, on the line. Her face is in the freaking logo - is it too much to ask for she could get her moments back?

They're auditioning today and tomorrow. I'm glad they're starting to use more auditions in Finnish theatres, giving the chance to everyone. Seems like a good idea to me. Here's to hoping they'll find an amazing cast! If the actors are stellar enough, I'll probably stop fretting about the cuts... But nothing will stop my disappointment if the hideous translation is not fixed.

Sign the petition.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Opera Thoughts

My May Day really wasn't all sitting around this year! You've already read about the actual May Day with the wild concert at Seinäjoki... But the day before, May Day eve - the Finnish holiday solely dedicated to getting drunk and, if possible, having fun while doing so - I went to see something very different.
Me and my friend went to Turku, to Åbo Svenska Teater, to see Ooppera Skaala's touring production of Fitness Light Opera.

Our reasons for seeing it were less to do with admiring the artform and more to do with everything else: we wanted to revisit the theatre for old times' sake. It also helped Sören Lillkung (Javert in ÅST's Les Mis) was a part of the cast. I admit, however, that I wouldn't have seen it unless my friend couldn't have stayed in Turku for the night without me (a relative of mine has a handily situated apartment in Turku and she's generously letting me visit when needed). I didn't think dragging myself to see an opera in a town 200 kilometers away would be worth the trouble.

I've seen a handful of operas before.
First, when I was a kid, it was my mom's futile attempt at trying to force some general knowledge about different artforms into me: she sometimes took me to National Opera to see an opera or a ballet. Too bad for my mother's poor nerves that the only things I was really interested in were cake and lemonade during the intermission...
But lately, tables have turned: I've actually dragged my mom to the opera a couple of times. Operas, after all, are kind of like musicals' ancestors. Some musicals are even based on operas! With the amount of time I spend seeing and thinking about musical theatre, I keep feeling I should educate myself about opera every now and then, too...
The only downside is that I often get bored when sitting in National Opera's auditorium.

Well, it's not 100% bad... I greatly appreciate opera singers, for instance. I've no idea how human beings can sing like that, it's amazing! What's more - while I find some of the music a bit bland, I do enjoy some of it. I even have La bohème on CD.
But, as a whole, I find many of those old operas boring as tar. Even though the singers are impressive, the music is grand... It feels to me that a scene that'd take two minutes in a movie, play or musical lasts for at least fifteen minutes in an opera. It often seems to me that arias and duets take an eternity, that verses are repeated until you feel you could recite them in Italian yourself.
What adds to the misery is the feeling that most of the operas I've seen in Finland's National Opera haven't been strongly acted. I don't know, maybe it's because they perform an opera for a month, put the production away for five years and then do another month, with another cast... Maybe they just don't get enough time to get used to their roles? I don't know, but I'd surely love to see some stronger acting.

That brings me to what I liked about the light opera: there actually was some acting. Even though - there being no microphones - the cast sung facing the audiece even during duets, you mostly felt you're watching the people the story is about instead of singers trodding around onstage. Everybody also sung beautifully.
What's more, the light opera had a pretty nicely paced plot. The scenes moved like they would in a play or a musical, there weren't many unnecessary repeats. The plot, in a nutshell, was about a fat guy who wanted to date a popular girl but had to lose weight to attract her attention, and the way his diet affected him, his family and his friends. The story got rather silly by the second act, with the doping subplot kicking in, and the ending was a bit underwhelming, but at least you didn't have the time to get bored.
I also enjoyed the music. It was done in the style of baroque operas, and it was pretty fun to hear that kind of music with modern lyrics. I've never heard opera sung in Finnish before, and I got to say, it sounded pretty nice! I liked the way one of the characters sung in Swedish every now and then - it added comedy but also sounded interesting, being sung at the same time with Finnish.

My main problem with Fitness was what it looked like. There's no way around it: it was ugly, plain and simple.
I understand that in a touring production the sets have to be easy to move, but that doesn't mean they have to be sloppily painted with the least subtle colours imaginable. I also understand there mightn't have been too much money for the costume department to use - but I'm sure they could've come up with something slightly less cheap-looking. The visuals were somewhat distracting for me, it looked like no effort went into them whatsoever.

Altogether, I'm still unsure if dragging myself to a town 200 kilometers away to see an opera, even if it had its good aspects, was worth it.
At least it was interesting to compare the new opera that's done in baroque style to the actual old operas I've seen. Why are the old ones so slowly paced? Is it because, back then, they didn't have any way to listen to their favourite arias outside the opera house, so it was better everything was repeated right away? Or has our attention span become shorter in the couple of centuries that have passed in between the classic operas and the creation of Fitness? Or have I been seeing the most boring classics and traditional opera is actually both fun and exciting?
Or am I just reading too much into this, and the true answer is that everybody's simply not an opera person?

Photos by Jussi Aalto.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Give us our Tanssi back!

It's becoming a personal tradition for me to do something musical on May Day. Last year, I went to ÅST to see Les Mis. This year, it was time for a musical themed May Day concert at Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri.
The music was played by a combination of two bands, Seinäjoki City Orchestra and Kauhava Big Band, conducted by Timo Ristilä. The singers were all former Vampyyrien tanssi cast members: Jouko Enkelnotko, Jyri Lahtinen, Leena Rousti, Ville Salonen, Sami Vartianen and Anne Vihelä.

Seeing every singer and even the conductor worked at Tanssi, and with the concert being staged at the theatre that used to do the show... It wasn't unrealistic to look forward a small nod or two in the vampire fandom's general direction.
But boy, I had no idea how amazing an experience the concert would actually be!

 Sami Vartiainen and Jyri Lahtinen in a happy May Day mood.

Indeed, everyone had figured the concert would have a couple of treats for vampire fans - t-shirts with the musical's logo and teeth a bit sharper than usual were once more spotted among the crowd at Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri's foyer.  Some former members of the Tanssi ensemble were present, even.

However, the first act of the concert went by - in retrospect! - quite calmly. We clapped, we screamed, but we hadn't yet a reason to go absolutely insane. Even though they played Tanz der Vampire's Overture and joked a bit with vampire teeth at one point, the music selection was well suited for regular audience members too. They played tunes from West Side Story, A Little Night Music, Chess and more. Everyone sung well, Sami Vartiainen's dancing was impressive during the Singing in the Rain number, the band sounded grand.
So far, so good.

And then we heard Count von Krolock's voice from the speakers, announcing that after intermission we'd be returning to Transylvania...

Jouko Enkelnotko as Herbert von Krolock, once more.

Return we did. The first half of the second act was pure, unadulterated fanservice for the members of the Tanssi fandom present.
Want to hear Jyri Lahtinen sing Krolock's part in Kun kaikki pimenee/Totale Finsternis once more? You got it! How about Kun rakastut/Wenn Liebe in Dir ist - but with Alfred's and Herbert's parts reversed? Why not! Or... ever wanted to see a drunk Count von Krolock? Here you go!
We saw stuff happening onstage that is usually only joked in fangirls and boys' conversations. I didn't imagine laughing this much at any concert!

I've no idea if there were people in the audience who hadn't seen Vampyyrien tanssi or saw it but didn't like it. A couple of senior citizens seated in the front row seemed a bit annoyed at the audience around them, but frankly, I don't care too much if they disapproved of my screaming. For the fans present, the concert was a fantastic - though brief - return to the musical we loved so much. The vampire-based numbers, as well as the rest of the second act with Sweet Transvestite from The Rocky Horror Show and more, were done perfectly tongue-in-cheek.

We rewarded the hilarity with standing ovations at the middle of the show, with screams and applause. I don't think my palms have ever hurt quite as much after leaving a theatre.

Among others, some sweet transvestites...

When the show had ended and I was approaching the front door with my friends, a lady who we had never seen before shouted at us - maybe she spotted my Dance of the Vampires logo t-shirt or something:
"Hey girls! You should start a petition to get Tanssi back!"
I'm sure it'd be useless, but I still kind of feel like doing that - just out of protest. It's been over a month since the last performance, but I'm not yet done with my annoyance over the show's closing. I'm not sad. I'm plain annoyed.

There are people who would've wanted to go but couldn't get tickets. The people who did... It seems almost everyone saw the show at least twice, and I haven't heard of anyone who would've seen it without liking it. The fans certainly still miss the show. The ensemble members I met yesterday told me the cast misses it, too. It was also clear the actors had a good time doing the show, and that made watching it hugely enjoyable.
In short, I've never felt such a strong connection in between members of the audience, in between the cast and the fans, at any show I've ever seen.

I can't but wonder what is wrong with the people who make decisions at Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri.
How could they let Tanssi die?

Photos by Miss V. - and, for once, taken inside a theatre auditorium with permission!