Thursday, November 29, 2012

Phenomenon: Les Mis?

So, Tampereen Teatteri will do Les Misérables in 2013, premiering on September 13th and 14th. The cast and details were released today. Let's take a look:

Jean Valjean: Tero Harjunniemi / Petja Lähde
Javert: Sören Lillkung
Fantine: Ele Millistfer
Cosette: Sarah Nedergård
Marius: Tomi Metsäketo
Éponine: Saara Lehtonen / Pia Piltz
Thénardier: Ville Majamaa
Madame Thénardier: Ritva Jalonen
Enjolras: Samuel Harjanne / Lauri Liiv

Director: Georg Malvius
Sets and costumes: Ellen Cairns
Choreography: Igor Barberic
Lights: Palle Palmé
Finnish translation: Jukka Virtanen

Cast with director and conductors

There's no need to go deep into what I think about the crew or the translation. I've already mentioned that here, here and here. (A select quote: "Nothing will stop my disappointment if the hideous translation is not fixed." Well. Yeah.

TT's version will truely be something of an ÅST replica. In short, I think Åbo Svenska Teater's Les Mis was practically perfect, but I would still have liked to see a new vision. Too bad for me. They said the new show will be "based on" the ÅST production and mentioned how much easier it was getting the rights from producer Cameron Mackintosh when they had a pre-existing concept. Sure, director Georg Malvius said the new actors will take their roles to new directions, and it was mentioned the show must be changed to fit to a stage different from ÅST's. But still. Anyway, you know what I think, I've talked about this in my speculations already.

Let's move on.

Today, in the press release event, theatre manager Reino Bragge mentioned something that caught my attention. He said local cinemas and Tampereen Teatteri will work together, what with the upcoming movie and this production, to bring "the Les Mis phenomenon" to Tampere.

ÅST alumni returns: Tomi Metsäketo and Samuel Harjanne

The Les Mis phenomenon?

From what I gather from today's info event, Tampereen Teatteri is trying to replicate a phenomenon indeed. Not a Les Mis related one, necessarily, but the one that's going on in Helsinki and goes by the name of Kristina från Duvemåla. Does the following sound familiar: five shows per week, pricier-than-usual tickets, subtitles in English, based on a former, popular production...

It seems to me Tampereen Teatteri is preparing for a success. They trust their show enough to rise prices above the ÅST levels. English subtitles seem like a clear sign they're trying to attract audiences even from outside of Finland.

But is Les Mis enough to draw in audiences from all over? I'm not sure. The theatre seems to have some pretty nice discounts for students (Hevijuuseri-kortti), so if they're compatible with Les Mis, it's likely I'll end up seeing it more than once. [Edited to add: of course the discount isn't compatible. That's student friendly policy for you!] But surely it's not enough that the Finnish Les Mis fandom (size approx. ten people) visits TT again and again.

Newcomers: Tero Harjunniemi and Petja Lähde will alternate in the main role

Let's remember the Les Misérables Åbo Svenska Teater staged that closed less than a year ago. It was the most popular show in the theatre's 170-year-long history. It's a small country, Finland, so a record like that isn't set with only Fennoswedish audiences. I suppose many people from all over Finland, probably also from Sweden, saw the show in Turku. Did they like what they saw enough to return for the exact same thing next year?

And with the upcoming movie and productions popping up all over Europe, I wonder if the English subtitles will have many users. How many travel to Tampere during the winter, anyway? Les Mis is not like Kristina in this respect. Les Mis has been done everywhere. Kristina, then, has been done only in Sweden before, and it's been a while since. Yet it's a national treasure to Swedes, and means a lot to many people with Swedish heritage all over the globe. Over a million people saw the show while it was performed in Sweden. What with ferries from Stockholm stopping at Helsinki every morning and night... Somehow, it's easy to see why Svenska Teatern's auditorium has been so full lately.

Javert and the conductor: it's Sören Lillkung's 3rd and Jussi Vahvaselkä's 2nd Les Mis

But Tampere? TT's Les Mis cast has some Estonian actors. Are there Estonians who are curious enough to travel to Finland for them? How about people from other countries? Every Nordic country has had their own version of Les Mis in the past few years. In 2014, Malvius will stage his vision for the 5th time, that time in Denmark. The original in London is going strong for the 27th year. Sure, some travel all around for their favourite shows. Personally, I love seeing and hearing musicals in foreign languages and have travelled for them. But how many think like me?

Then there's the upcoming movie. Soon, everyone will have Les Mis in their home town. It might encourage people to see the stage show. But it also rises the bar pretty high for TT, supposing the movie'll be good. I had a short chat with Tero Harjunniemi, who will play Valjean in TT. He said he's not scared of the movie setting expectations because theatre is such a different medium. True that – but wonder if the audience will still go in expecting to see a performance to match Hugh Jackman's instead of a Finnish actor's own vision? Anyway, I'm glad TT will at least replicate a stage show instead of trying to bring the movie onstage!

Cosette and the director: Sarah Nedergård and Georg Malvius


Personally, I would've preferred to see a different director and an all-new cast. But, if they had to replicate something and bring back some actors, I guess these were the best choices (and to be fully honest: in a way, it warms my heart to no end to see at least some of the ÅST cast I loved so so so so so much returning, even though I keep saying I'm all for new people in the roles. A small part of me keeps screaming about returning home and reliving the magic). TT's Les Mis will be unoriginal, but I feel it will also be good, just like it's predecessor. The translation notwithstanding... Theatre manager Bragge claimed some bits may still be fixed before the premiere. Can't but hope and pray, and on the meanwhile learn to not understand the Finnish language and only enjoy the voices.

But will TT's Les Misérables be interesting enough to bring "the Les Mis phenomenon" to Tampere? Time will tell, but I can't help feeling a bit sceptical.

Photos by Harri Hinkka and Muplakuovi.
Listen to Sören Lillkung sing Stars in Finnish.


  1. Thank you for this post (and the JVx2 photo).

  2. Hey there, it's nice to find a Finnish theatre blog! It would be awesome if you took a look at mine, there's not much to read there yet but I'm going to write about music, theatre and literature :) BTW you already know me as Gigi in Abaissé!

    1. Hello! Always glad to find other Finnish theatre bloggers – following you back right away!