Monday, October 22, 2012

Not Gonna Pay

I've talked about my relationship with Rent before. In a nutshell: when I think about the show with sense and logic, I hate it like burning. But when I see the show live, there's usually something that lifts me up. My brain says it's bad, but I tend to end up having a good time nevertheless.
However, seeing the production directed by Marco Bjurström that premiered in Alexander Theatre last week... I'm afraid I've reached a magical point (of no return?): I didn't enjoy myself like before anymore. I felt, mostly, nothing.

Maybe I'm just fed up. Or maybe it's my I dislike towards the material speaking. I adore how clever an adaptation of La bohème Rent is, and the songs are mostly great, but some parts of the story don't fly with me. After my last rant, I've realised I side with the wrong character: Benny. I don't really see what's so evil about his studio plans. Frankly, I'd like to work there.
But disagreeing with the characters doesn't automatically mean anything. I think I would have liked this production a lot better if it had been more innovative. The direction resembled the Broadway production. That's good if you love that production. I don't. And since we can all buy the DVD of the final performance, what's the point of showing us the same thing? Last year in Lahti, Suomen Musiikkiteatteriensemble ry changed the ending a notch darker, removed the song that grates the most, switched scenes around a little bit, and boom, twice better than the Broadway DVD. This production, then, went through the whole Broadway routine – and felt like something I've already seen.

As is, I feel the show only reached its full potential during the last fifteen minutes. What You Own, sung by Heikki Mäkäräinen (Mark, reprising his role from the aforementioned Musiikkiteatteriensemble production, great job again) and Raine Heiskanen (Roger) was the turning point for me: they sung with huge energy, I suddenly felt the show is amazing. Too bad the moment came an act too late.
Nevertheless, I thought the actors did a good job overall. Apart from Mäkäräinen, I liked Ilari Hämäläinen as Benny and Sanna Parviainen as Maureen the most. The former avoided the trap of portraying the character as a jerk and did a great job with his few sung bits. The latter sparkled with energy and attitude, just like Maureen should.
When it comes to character chemistry, I think there was some in between Maureen and Joanne and maybe also Angel and Collins, but not too much in between Mimi and Roger. While Mira Luoti was a cute, vulnerable Mimi, I don't think she and Roger seemed too infatuated with each other. Another Day seemed angry on everybody's part.

Not amused by your accusations of lacking character chemistry.

The production looked, set-wise, just like every other Rent I've seen.
The scaffoldings and industrial tables on wheels aren't pretty, but they do what they're supposed to and give the events a backdrop. Maybe you shouldn't fix what's broken. They're one of musical theatre's omnipresent things: Phantom and the chandelier, Les Mis and the barricade, Rent and the scaffoldings. But why are they so holy they never seem to get replaced? It'd be refreshing to see something different. The sets were designed by Bjurström and Heiskanen, the director and one of the leads. Maybe they had too much else on their minds to start reinventing.

The costumes by Jarkko Valtee, then, had undergone some chances from the traditional. Mostly, it was okay – losing the most stereotypical 90s costumes might not be period-accurate, but 90s fashion also looks pretty silly, so...
There was one costume change above the others: they had completely redone Angel's wardrobe. An artistic drag queen, you can do lots with her, so I tip my hat to this production completely changing things. Too bad I also hated said changes. Little panties, crop tops, a green mohawk... She looked less like a drag queen, more like the guys from Blades of Glory. Except for way more naked. I think it's easier to see Angel as the heart of the story she's supposed to be if her outfits don't make me gape for all the wrong reasons (though what do I know – maybe I'm alone and everyone else found her gorgeous).
To nitpick further, it bothered me that some characters were wearing such skimpy clothing, tiny tops and fishnet stockings, without a jacket. The show takes place on Christmas Eve, for heaven's sake!

Then there's the case of Sami Parkkinen's translation.
I stand in awe.
I don't remember hearing a Finnish translation that fails at resembling the original text and rhyming and rythm. Glad life's full of surprises and I got to experience this. If I was rolling my eyes in my seat, which I know I was – actors, please don't think it was because I thought you were so bad. You weren't, it was the words you sung... Ilona Kangas of Turun Sanomat says, in her review, that "Sami Parkkinen has made a new Finnish translation and done it well." I guess you can have many different opinions about this translation, then, but I'm afraid I can't understand Kangas's. Sure, the translation had a couple of good moments, but I don't think that's enough to make up for the major clumsiness.
It annoys me to no end how they didn't use the translation from Suomen Musiikkiteatteriensemble's production. Jyri Numminen's version compromised a couple of rhymes too, I seem to recall, but it did that so much better. It got rid of American terms Finns might find hard to understand (for example, changed Labor Day to vappu/May Day), it flowed, it didn't make me cringe once. Why on earth use a new translation when it can't hold a candle to the previous one?

Oddly enough, even after all this, I can't call this a bad production of Rent. Everything but the translation worked okay, even if nothing was especially exciting. All the scenes were there, looking and sounding like you'd expect. The actors were good fits for their roles. I should mention that the rest of the audience, in the half-full auditorium, loved the show: the applause went on and on, culminating in a standing ovation.
In my opinion, this production simply lacked the creativity and heart to really lift it off the ground.

Photos by Lasse Lindqvist.


  1. Aww, pity if the production is so unimaginative. I might have given it a chance if it had been something spectacular, but as such I think I'll skip it. Rent is on my "Dislike but will perhaps give a chance to a really good production" list of musicals.

    About the translation: the rights to Rent are not bought via Näytelmäkulma, so every theatre owns the translation it has used. I can't get into the Ilona archive to see how many productions there have been in Finland and who has translated which of them, but I suspect the translations have mostly been made for each theatre separately.

    1. I guess I've grown to expect Rent being very imaginative, in good or bad – this is the fourth one I've seen but the first one that completely follows the Broadway script. Maybe people who have only seen the DVD before think that changing the costumes is already very creative, and I'm the one with a weird perspective here. ;)

      That explains it, thanks for letting me know!

  2. I was there too on Saturday and I have to totally agree with you. Yes, I did stand up on the applause but didn't feel the need to it.
    The first half was suprisingly low and I found myself looking around me and my focus point was in everything else than what was happening on stage. Sadly.

    Mostly I liked the one actress from the ensemble. Chevakova was her last name. She had more energy than anyone else on stage.
    It was funny how I had waited so much from "Maureen" and she was nothing but a dull and boring chick doing things on stage that had no purpose.

    That was one thing that bothered me throughout the whole night. Actors did things on stage without meaning. Because director told me to jump up around here - no motivation, no focuspoints, nothing. Boooriiiing as hell. I found that the basic of this was in the script. Translation was clumsy and the words were bulky and just wrong. Rythmless words comes to rythmless movement.

    And to me it makes me want to scream if actors are just doing a routine without living it. Giving the feeling to audience. And they were. I thought many times that their motivation was "because director told me to do this". Only Collins and Anger were the only exeptions on this.

    I'm glad that I'm able to see this again. To see if it's improved from this. If it really has some light in in. If not.. too bad for the production team.

    1. Glad I wasn't alone...

      I think you managed to verbalise something I left out of my review because I didn't find the words: I felt the actors did things without meaning, too. They sung well and acted individual scenes okay, but I got the feeling their characters didn't really have strong, full journeys. Agreeing with you there!

      But here's to hoping they'll improve by the time you'll see the show again! :)