Monday, December 2, 2013

TT Les Mis: Autumn Season Retrospective

For the past three months, I've been living a luxurious life: I've been able to see my favourite musical of all times whenever I've felt like it. Self-restraint and delayed gratification, pish posh! As long as Les Misérables is playing in Tampereen Teatteri and I have the means and the desire to see it, I'm going to see it too.

I guess after six times in the audience and the production now on holiday until January, it's a good time to talk about it a bit.

If you want to read my thoughts about the cast, check out my review. (It's finally complete with every single alternate, and includes a handful of understudies too.) This post is rather something of a sequel to this one. Before TT's Les Mis premiere I was worried. Would I like the show? Now I can answer that.

I first said this jokingly, but it has occured to me this is actually completely accurate: the small Finnish Les Mis sub-fandom I am a part of watches this show like others might watch sports. It's just that our sport is musicals, we've chosen TT's Les Mis cast as our favourite team, and we cheer for them.

Sports fans might wear a t-shirt with their idol's shirt number. Us TT Les Mis fans, too, have our favourite team members, in the form of principals, alternates and understudies. Sometimes all of us agree that a certain person simply is the ultimate choice for their post, sometimes even that a certain team member would be better replaced by someone else. But sometimes we disagree. Some of us just don't personally like the way someone else's favourite handles the ball, though we see they sometimes score winning goals too.

But, just as in sports, our team doesn't always score the winning goal at all. Sometimes the show is like a relay race gone wrong: when a couple of people don't run to the next person fast enough, the whole team fails to reach the finishing line. But then again, sometimes they finish first and then keep running for extra five miles or so, just for the joy of it.

Whenever it happens our favourite team doesn't quite reach the finishing line, boy, do we complain. We nitpick like mad and discuss details so small you need binoculars to see them. Once, a friend and I complained for full four hours after the show and proceeded to watch the 10th Anniversary Concert DVD just to dull our disappointment. But sometimes... Though we haven't yet brought any vuvuzelas to the auditorium, it really is party time after the show if our team wins the match.

It being my number one favourite thing in the world, it's easy for me to get really mean and nitpicky about Les Mis. I'm sure the performance we spent those four hours criticizing was fine to most of the audience. It definitely had good parts in my eyes, too. But, having seen the show live for 24 times now and having been an active fan for five years soon... I have seen so many great performances and have such clear ideas about the characters in my head that my point of view might be a bit warped. I'm there half for the show, half for analyzing it afterwards. And a bit for fangirlish glee.

Seeing we're talking about a live show with live people, there will of course be good and bad days. But the problem with Tampereen Teatteri's Les Mis is, to me, that the cast alternations change the show too much. There are a couple of performances, mostly alternates and understudies, that simply aren't what I want to see in the roles. That one time, they had four of these least favourites onstage, and when three of them had big solos back-to-back in the second act, there was no hope for me getting back into the proper mood anymore. But on the flip side, sometimes nearly every role is performed by someone I adore. I can tolerate one weak link if the rest is pure goodness, as has happened.

I've a feeling my least favourites have their fans too. As said, I have a clear idea of especially what I don't want to see in the roles. But maybe that's exactly what someone else wants to see? Some of my lesser favourites aren't doing anything wrong, really. Their take of their character is simply so different from my ideal interpretation that I'm not getting along with it.

I've seen both one of the worst performances of Les Mis I've witnessed so far and a new personal favourite in Tampereen Teatteri. Attach a heart rate monitor to me and you'll know exactly what I'm feeling. Sometimes, my heart doesn't beat any faster than usually, but sometimes, the whole second act feels like cardio workout. And seeing a heartbeat-fastening performance of Les Mis like that is so much fun to me that if the downside is the possibility of seeing some performances I can at least enjoy criticizing with my friends afterwards...

I think I'll keep coming back for a couple of times more.

Drawings by me.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Audience Participation

I saw Rocky Horror Show at Turun kaupunginteatteri yesterday. I don't have much to say about it. I went there because I live close to the theatre. When an opportunity to see a new musical next door presents itself, I tend to take it. But going in already, I was quite sure I wouldn't much enjoy the show. I was right. Not a new favourite.

Rocky Horror Show is, as most musical fans know, famous for its audience participation. The production I just saw puts plenty of emphasis on that. The story makes no sense, and while the music is catchy, the most exciting part of the show is getting to take part in it. You can throw things onstage and shout at the characters. There's a sort of a script for the audience to follow, when to throw and what to shout. In Turun kaupunginteatteri, a participation guide can be found in the souvenir programme, and they even have video screens with instructions around the stage.

Turun kaupunginteatteri has been saying Rocky Horror is famous for it's "genuine audience interaction", but I'm unsure if it could be called that – the audience is, after all, following a script too. But genuine or not, the interaction is crucial for the show. I don't think it could survive without the audience doing their part. I guess most people don't buy their tickets to see a piece of theatre, they go in for an experience.

Finns are known as a shy people, but last night at least, the audience played along and even seemed to be having some fun doing so. Not me, though. I doubt I'll ever be a Rocky Horror person. While I think it's a fun opportunity for outgoing people that the audience has their own part to play, I don't feel comfortable with shouting obscenities and throwing things in theatre myself. I prefer sitting quietly and observing the events. Trying to start standing ovations every now and then is quite enough excitement for me.

But what if this isn't a matter of shyness, after all, but of practice?

Maybe even I could get into a proper audience participation mood if I got to try it out during musicals I know and love first? I'm proposing that we don't let the casts of famous shows have all the fun by themselves anymore. Here are audience participation directions for three popular musicals. Share them with your fellow audience members, too!

Les Misérables:
  • Whenever Jean Valjean’s name is mentioned, shout “bread!”
  • When Javert is mentioned, shout “law!”
  • Greet Enjolras by loudly yelling “Enjolr-ASS!” every time he appears onstage.
  • Take your own yellow ticket of leave with you. Follow Valjean’s example and tear it in a dramatic manner.
  • Take some glittering confetti with you to throw in the air during Stars.
  • When Javert appears onstage in his undercover outfit, you can go undercover too: put on your cap. Feel free to look shifty and suspicious.
  • Shout “kiss already!” every time there’s a long glance in between Jean Valjean and Javert.
  • During the Wedding, blow soap bubbles to celebrate the happy couple.

Sweeney Todd
  • Every time Anthony appears onstage, shout "stalker!"
  • Whenever Mrs. Lovett is baking or pies are mentioned, throw a bit of flour in the air.
  • During My Friends, slowly raise your own safety razor or ladyshaver.
  • When flowers are mentioned in Wait, feel free to throw some onstage. Not restricted to daisies and gillyflowers, but no cactuses, please.
  • During the beginning of A Little Priest, shout "get it!?" after Mrs. Lovett's every line. Boo until Sweeney finally gets it.
  • Uh-oh, it's raining blood! Cover your head with your favourite penny dreadful.
  • Mrs. Lovett is dreaming about a life by the sea. Show your support by wearing your sunglasses.
  • Shout "Benjamin Barker!" together with Sweeney. The more dramatic, the better.

Fiddler on the Roof
  • Blow your party horn constantly until If I Were a Rich Man finally, finally stops playing in your head.

Photo by Robert Seger.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Interview: Tero Harjunniemi

At the moment, Finnish tenor Tero Harjunniemi plays the part of Jean Valjean in Tampereen Teatteri’s production of Les Misérables. Classically trained and having done many opera roles, his voice gives the part a unique twist. But how did he end up as the lead in the new Finnish production of world’s favourite musical, and what does he think about his character?

A while ago, I had the chance to find out.

During the past years, Tero Harjunniemi has been singing in various operas, operettas and musicals. But music isn’t the career he originally chose. He decided to become an architect when he was still in comprehensive school, and eventually became one. But on the side, he also studied singing. For years, he kept doing the two side by side, but finally, singing won.

“There are two things that I like a lot that I’ve always been somewhat good at: drawing and singing. The former affected my decision to become an architect, but singing has always been my ultimate dream. Music has always interested me, always affected me in some way”, Harjunniemi says.

Harjunniemi mentions that he sings mainly because he enjoys it himself, but the energy he gets from the audience is also important to him. One of the differences in between the two professions is the speed of getting feedback.

“You do get feedback when it comes to architecture, but that takes a while. When you’re singing in front of an audience, you get the feedback right away. It’s great. You don’t have to try guessing what people think about your work. Of course, nowadays, I can also tell myself if something is going wrong – my own estimate is rarely completely wrong.”

An ideal role

Harjunniemi says the role of Jean Valjean is a part that lets him use all his talents onstage. He wasn’t dreaming about doing the role before learning the musical would be produced in Tampere, but looking into the part, he found out it would suit him. 

Alfie Boe inspired me to audition for Les Mis. If he could sing the part in a classical style in the 25th Anniversary Concert, why couldn’t I? If they have voices like that in the role in London, why not in Finland?”

Why not indeed – Harjunniemi has been playing the part for the past few months and the reviews have been glowing. Originally, however, he wasn’t to be the only one to play the lead in the production. The role of Jean Valjean in TT’s Les Misérables was supposed to be split in between two actors. Before the premiere the alternate had to back out, but Harjunniemi was up to the challenge.

“A double opera I did in Oulu assured me I could do this. There, I did two opera roles – Cavalleria rusticana’s Turiddu and Gianni Schicci’s Rinuccio – back to back, on the same night, three nights in a row. After that, I was certain I could do five shows of Les Mis a week!”

Harjunniemi was sure the role of Jean Valjean would suit him vocally, but before the premiere, he was a bit uncertain about the looks.

“Valjean has been played by tall, rugged-looking guys…  So I wondered if I would look believable in the role. But makeup does wonders. I was looking at some photos taken during the premiere night’s curtain call and had to look at them twice before the realization hit me: oh, that’s me. I honestly didn’t recognize myself. I look quite convincing as a senior citizen!”

Character studies

Les Misérables is based on a classic work of literature, but Harjunniemi is still half-way through reading Victor Hugo’s brick of a novel. He thinks that while it’s interesting to see how the author originally saw the character, everything you need for the onstage performance can be found in the script of the show.

“I have been studying the character’s background online. But for the show itself, I don’t think research like that is necessary. You can’t show off your knowledge about the character’s origins onstage.”

Harjunniemi mentions that Les Misérables is a rare musical – not many musicals tell the whole life story of a person. In this case, the story begins in prison.

“Valjean’s sense of justice is very strong. He simply cannot accept the punishment he has been given.  He doesn’t seem like the sharpest crayon in the box, though, trying to escape the prison so many times and not making it… Maybe there’s some simplicity in the character, and why wouldn’t there be. He’s a normal guy”, Harjunniemi ponders about his character.

The Bishop’s gift of candlesticks changes Jean Valjean for good. Harjunniemi wonders, however, if the Bishop alone could’ve helped Valjean to the right track. He thinks there must be another experience in Valjean’s life that motivates the big character change.

 “What has taught Valjean to accept the chance the Bishop offers to him? I’m sure there has been someone in Valjean’s life, before the Bishop, who has given him love, goodness, warmth – something. Nothing else explains how Valjean was able to turn the love the Bishop shows towards him into opportunities for another people. I don’t believe a man can change just like that unless something good has happened in his childhood. The prison doesn’t make you very gentle, after all!”

In the musical, Valjean’s character embodies the themes of love, caring, and forgiveness. Yet his life is never easy:

 “Valjean is afraid of getting caught all the time. And that fear grows stronger from the moment he meets Cosette and decides to take care of her.”

The fear is personalized in Javert, Valjean’s opposing force.

“I consider the character of Javert to be deranged in some way.  When he can’t do his job, it’s too much for him to bear. It’s a little silly to think that is his reason for committing suicide. He has had a really bad childhood that has affected him in the wrong way. Then he’s ended up in a profession where you can control people – as long as it’s in accord with the law, he has the chance to do treat others whichever way he wants. During the course of the story, he stops using common sense altogether.“

“Valjean, then, thinks with common sense all the way through and sees things in a completely different light. That’s where the theme of forgiveness comes into play. Valjean sees no reason to take his revenge on Javert, even though he has multiple chances to do just that.”

Is there anything in common in between the actor and the character?

“Determination is a trait I share with Valjean. Once you decide to do something, then you do that, no matter what happens on the way! Acting is always about becoming someone else. But it has been easy becoming Valjean, seeing how he stands for things I could imagine standing for myself.”

Fantastic combination

The tickets for the spring 2014 season of Les Misérables are on sale, so for a while still, Harjunniemi’s life will be all about Les Misérables. And who knows, maybe the future might hold more musicals in store.

“I like the world of musicals, and I suppose there are many musical roles that might suit me, seeing that I also sing in a non-classical style. But the show has to mean something to me. Just like opera – next, I would like to do a role that touches me.”

Summing up his life at the moment, Harjunniemi feels happy:

”For me, this combines a hobby and a job. I think that’s the ideal situation. You get to do what you want, and maybe sometimes somebody even pays you something for doing it. That’s a fantastic combination.”

Suomalaiset lukijat, kuunnelkaa myös tämä: audiohenkilökuvassa Tero Harjunniemi

Saturday, November 2, 2013

104th Musical Retrospective

I was supposed to write a retrospective post before seeing the 100th musical performance of my life. Being lazy and busy, I've now seen 104 musicals (yes, I count them) and have just gotten around to writing this. At least this is the 100th post in my blog!

In honour of all that, I thought to write a little about being a musical fan. I can't really explain why I love musicals so, even if I try, but at least I can tell how that love has affected my life – so far.

Musical theatre is the biggest passion of my life.

It brings me so much joy. I spend the most of my free time doing something musical-related. I of course don't see shows every night, but not a day goes by without me speculating about upcoming shows and discussing and thinking about the current and past ones.

Online, apart from this blog here, I have this little side-project I call Fuck Yeah, Finnish Musical Theatre! It's a sort of an archive of pictures, videos, news articles and so on related to Finnish musical theatre. It's updated at least once every day, has over 1,100 posts at the moment, and probably has a tag full of material about your favourite Finnish musical performer or show too. Whenever I'm not busy with that, I like drawing musical fanart. I believe my deviantART gallery has over a hundred musicals related pictures already.

As you probably have figured out already, my true love is Finnish musical theatre. I like all musicals, but the ones here in Finland are the closest to my heart. They're of course not always perfect, but I see red every time I hear someone implying Finnish shows can't ever be as good as the musicals in London and New York. Bah! I think it's such an ugly attitude that Finnish shows can't possible ever be the best, just because they're guilty of being Finnish. But, to be honest, I used to think so too. When I was just getting into musicals, I was convinced Finland would never be on par with the musical capitals of the world and lamented that we'll never get the best shows here. Then we got a production of Wicked I honestly liked better than the West End version, and I started to realise I had been wrong. Great productions can happen anywhere.

With my blog here, written in English, my side blog, and even my drawings, I admit I try to showcase Finnish musicals to international theatre fans. Maybe there won't ever be a surge of theatre tourists in Finland. Personally, I don't pay much attention to lyrics and enjoy shows in languages I don't understand, but I know the language issue is a problem for many fans. But maybe international attention is not the most important thing. Sure, I'd like to see the worldwide musical fandom appreciating all international productions, Finnish ones included, even more than it does nowadays. But more than anything, I would like no Finn ever again uttering the that-was-almost-as-good-as-on-Broadway mantra.

It would be silly to think my blogs and posts would make a big difference in the opinions of either Finnish or international musical fans. But once, for example, my posts were one of the starting points in a chain of events that culminated into an American theatre fan (and nowadays, one of my best friends) flying to Finland to see Les Mis. So maybe that alone was worth all the time I put into this!

Speaking of that Les Mis, though... I've said it previously and I still claim the Åbo Svenska Teater Les Misérables changed my life, so I guess it'd be fitting to dedicate a couple of paragraphs to it in this post too. Of course, it's not the sole thing that's made me the person I am today, but it was a turning point for me nevertheless. I've repeated this all to ad nauseam, but it means so much to me, so hear me out.

I still feel amazed about the things that happened during the run of ÅST's Les Mis and because of it. Those experiences, in a way, might also explain why I love musical theatre so much. The magic is not just about seeing shows and appreciating the talent onstage. It's also about making friends and having adventures, like I did during the run of ÅST's Les Mis. (And, to a lesser extent, during the run of Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri's Tanz der Vampire too. The two overlapped, so I usually just think about it all as one big happy blur of events!) A single musical production can bring so many new friends and good things into one's life, a seemingly small thing can start the adventure of a lifetime. Little things can make you smile even almost two years later.

Though, of course, I also appreciate this production because it's the best one I've ever seen. If I was asked to single out the best of those 104 musical performances I've seen so far, Les Mis in Åbo Svenska Teater on 30.4.2011 would be my choice, and I wouldn't even hesitate. That was one perfect night at the theatre.

Before ÅST's Les Mis, which premiered in 2010, I believe I was what you'd call a regular musical fan. My parents actually knew about the production before I did and didn't tell me – I was going to get a ticket for Christmas present and they wanted it to be a surprise! Hah! I did find out about the show in November, so their plan failed even then. But these days, I doubt anyone who knows me would imagine that if a Finnish theatre announces during the fall that they will do a musical, I wouldn't find out before Christmas...

My obsession has seeped into my school work, even. My high school final exam essay in Finnish was mostly about Tanz der Vampire, which I had just seen in Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri the previous week (and I got the best grade). I've been studying journalism for the past year and a half soon, and whenever possible, I do my school assignments about theatre. (Stay tuned, there is an interview with someone who plays Jean Valjean coming up later this month!)

It's funny my biggest passion in life is musical theatre, seeing how my own talents lie elsewhere. I have no musical skills whatsoever. I like singing along when I listen to music alone, but I'm not good at it, and I've never been interested in playing any instruments. I'm no more interested in acting or dancing, apart from a spectator's point of view.

As said, I study journalism, but being a journalist isn't my dream. Though I don't want to be onstage, it's my dream being a part of bringing the theatre experience to others one day, in some way. I worked in an outdoor theatre last summer, as a part-time PR assistant and as a part-time box office and café saleslady, and can't but hope that wasn't my last time working in a theatre. Even selling tickets and pouring coffee last summer was strangely satisfying – to know that I did something to help others to experience the thing I myself love so much.

So, there you have it, my big goal. I don't know yet how, when, or even if I'll reach it, but I will try. And on the meanwhile, I guess I'll see a hundred and four musical performances more and write some more posts.

Drawings by me.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dr. Zhivago

I wasn't planning to see this production until later in November - but when you get a premiere invitation from a friend who's gotten an invitation from the very lead of the show, you really can't say no... That being the case, I think I should include a disclaimer: in a way, I saw this production for free on the courtesy of Helsingin kaupunginteatteri.

Like last year's Fiddler on the Roof, Helsingin kaupunginteatteri is again doing a musical based on a classic Russian story. Doctor Zhivago the musical is, however, a bit fresher than last year's classic: this is the first production of the show in Europe!

I was quite excited about this production beforehand, but it's been difficult trying to shove my thoughts into a nutshell afterwards. This musical had many elements I liked and I left the theatre feeling quite impressed. But after the initial excitement about seeing one of my favourite actors in a leading role and getting to be a part of the fancy premiere audience wore off, I was left wondering if I was actually much touched by the show after all.

Let's see.

Anna-Maija Jalkanen and Tuukka Leppänen

Doctor Zhivago, based on Boris Pasternak's Nobel-winning novel, tells a story of one man's life in tumultuous beginning-of-the-20th-century Russia. Above all, however, it's a love story – a love triangle in between the titular doctor and the two important women of his life.

The show has been compared to Les Misérables multiple times, and having seen it now, I have to make that comparison once again. The similarities are striking: it tells the leading character's story from his prime to the end of his life, a revolution as a backdrop... I dare you to watch either of Doctor Zhivago's act endings without being reminded of Les Mis. Doctor Zhivago has a tad simpler story and less characters than its French counterpart, but it also lacks a certain epicness that makes Les Misérables memorable. 

Maybe that's to do with the music. Doctor Zhivago's music is quite nice and beautiful. But oftentimes, it's nice and beautiful even during intense scenes. To me, Lucy Simon's tunes were perfect for romantic moments but felt lackluster during the biggest scenes. I think the music could've been more bombastic in the war scenes, more chilling when the villain was singing... Still, it's a shame there is no cast recording of this musical. I've a feeling these songs might grow on me, and I'd also like to hear the original English lyrics.

The action, luckily, wasn't as mild as the songs. For example, I've never seen as disturbing an onstage death as one of the deaths in Doctor Zhivago. I felt freaked out, but in a good way.

Antti Timonen and Anna-Maija Tuokko

Tuukka Leppänen and Anna-Maija Tuokko were both quite intense in their leading roles as Yuri Zhivago and Lara, the forbidden love of Zhivago's life. I could listen to especially the former's singing for the whole night, and thankfully, he finally plays a part where he gets plenty of songs!

I'm afraid, however, that I have to agree with whichever review mentioned that the chemistry in between the two leads was still a bit lacking. Maybe that was just premiere nerves, though? I wouldn't be surprised to see the relationship in between Yuri and Lara developing to feel more and more natural in the upcoming performances.

My favourite character by far was Pasha Antipov, played by Antti Timonen. A truely evil musical villain, this one! You have all these antagonists, Javerts and Phantoms and Judases, who do awful things but who you are still expected to symphatise with... So, for once, I enjoyed this truely evil character. You can't even try excusing his actions, even when the motivations behind them are explained to you, and Timonen's take was chilling. I was impressed.

I was also rather impressed by the looks of Ralf Forsström's set. Steely, icy, and still strangely beautiful, it suited the musical perfectly. For once, Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's huge scene didn't look too big. Forsström's costumes didn't impress me in a similar way, I thought they were mostly nice but nothing especially memorable – but two thumbs up for the set!

All in all, I think Doctor Zhivago the musical is worth seeing... but.

You probably know the feeling. Sometimes, you see and acknowledge that there is a lot of good in a production, but you can't feel it in your heart. That is my relationship with Doctor Zhivago. I can't point out what is wrong exactly, but a certain flame is missing. The irrational part of my taste that arbitrarily decides which shows I love seems to crave for something else than what this musical delivers. I'll probably try seeing the show again in the winter for all the positive things I've mentioned here, but I doubt I'll be listing it as one of my personal favourites even then.

Photos by Charlotte Estman-Wennström.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Addams Family

Please note: I saw the premiere of this production for free on the courtesy of Tampereen Työväen Teatteri. 

A musical about the Addams family is a concept that seems like it's got a lot of potential, and a show I would love to like. They're creepy, they're spooky, and they're a lot of fun. With catchy tunes and a compelling plot, this should be good.

Sadly, having just seen the show at Tampereen Työväen Teatteri, I can tell you catchy tunes and a compelling plot are the two things The Addams Family the musical simply doesn't have.

The Addams Family tells a story about a grown-up Wednesday Addams bringing her fiancé and his parents to meet her family. But – gasp – the love of Wednesday's life, Lucas, is a normal guy with a normal family. His parents don't live in a freaky mansion full of torture devices and undead butlers. And now the two families will meet each other for the first time. Hijinks will certainly ensue!

At first, they do. In the first act there are quite a lot of funny jokes about the situation. I admit, I laughed... During the second act, however, the plot (written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) comes to a halt. 

The musical doesn't take full advantage of its premise. I got the feeling the show is afraid of overdoing the joke about the Addams versus Normal People, and almost underdoes it instead. The groom's family gets used to their new inlaws too fast and easily, the issue gets buried deep under unrelated problems by the second act. The structure of the show is awful: it runs out of interesting plot points before the intermission already. The second half of the show is then spent on filler events and filler songs.

I might have been able to forgive the filler songs if they were good. Too bad they're not. To me, the catchiest, most interesting of Andrew Lippa's tunes were the act overtures and some of the music playing under dialogue scenes. No classic showtune material here, just an uninteresting song after another with a couple of mildly pleasant surprises in between. Apparently the characters are supposed to have different styles of music associated to them. Maybe that's why the score doesn't feel like a whole, even though it's a bit hard to tell which character is supposed to have which style of music.

Luckily the Addams family themselves are a lot of fun. Eriikka Väliahde is a gorgeous Morticia (how does she even move in her costume without toppling over?) with delicious acting and Puntti Valtonen is a symphatetic Gomez. Their scenes together were the highlights of the premiere. Laura Alajääski, Wednesday, has some serious singing talent. And I have to mention Sami Eerola as Lurch, too – according to Wikipedia, he's the second-tallest man in Finland, and as such a very chilling sight in the role!

But indeed the differences in between the two families in this show run deep: to prevent the audience from having too much fun, the groom and his folks are quite bland. Lucas is a cute guy that doesn't have a soul, a prop rather than a person. That can't be blamed on Juha-Matti Koskela, who I'm sure does his best in the part – there simply aren't any interesting scenes or songs to work with. I found the groom's parents (Mika Honkanen and Minna Hokkanen) unpleasant. The plot's sudden focus on them during the second act felt annoying at best.

All in all, the cast of Tampereen Työväen Teatteri's production of The Addams Family does a nice job, and the sets and costumes look cute. But no amount of talent available can save the script or the monotone that is the music. It's a shame the writers of this show couldn't create an exciting musical about the Addams family. With proper script and catchier tunes, this could have been a fun night at the theatre.

Photos by Teppo Järvinen.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

In the Jungle

Please note: I saw the press premiere of this production for free on the courtesy of Svenska Teatern.

After last year's heavy musical epic Kristina från Duvemåla, Svenska Teatern is now doing something quite different: Djungelboken, The Jungle Book, is an originally Hungarian show intended for the whole family.

Partick Henriksen as Mowgli and Arne Nylander as Baloo the bear.

If you're planning a trip to Finland and want to see theatre but don't speak either of the country's languages, this (like Tampereen Teatteri's Les Misérables) might be an option for you: there will be subtitles available in English, Finnish, and also in Swedish, the language the show is performed in. I didn't get a change to test them in the press premiere, the subtitling machines weren't available yet. But seeing the system was already in use during Kristina, I'm sure there won't be problems once the machines are available again.

As for the show itself – I wasn't really enamored by it. But good things first: it looked absolutely great!

The costumes, by Erika Turunen, reminded me of Lahden kaupunginteatteri's production of Cats (which I adored): they were imaginative and surprising, with bright colours and wild designs. And still, you could easily tell which animal was which. A perfect balance, I think. A tiger doesn't always have to have stripes all over to look quite impressive!

The set, by Erik Salvesen, was lovely too. There were no set changes, but there were enough details that the scene didn't get boring at any point, and different lights (by Tom Kumlin) did wonders. I especially liked the glow-in-the-dark details. It was amazing to see how a lighting change could transform the set into a whole new world.

The costumes weren't the only thing that reminded me of Cats: the structure of the show did, too. Well, unlike Cats, Djungelboken has a plot – but hardly any songs advanced it. Instead, they were Cats-type spectacles that introduced different animals to the audience. Since the story was mostly told in dialogue scenes, and felt a bit lacking even so, I had a hard time getting into the events and feeling for the characters. On the other hand, though, it's possible to enjoy Djungelboken purely as a visual spectacle. The dancing was good and the fighting scenes looked impressive.

Birthe Wingren as the panther Bagheera and Simon Häger as the snake Kaa

This production didn't have a live orchestra, and I'm pretty sure some of the chorus singing was also recorded. Apart from Åbo Svenska Teater's two-nights-only production of Terje Vigen a couple of years ago, I don't think I've ever seen a musical performed without a single live musician. Sure, when you record, you can mix and edit, remove the mistakes and be sure that your musicians are never out of tune... But what happens if a live singer messes with the rythm or accidentally skips a line? A live conductor could try fixing the situation somehow, but a recording will just go on.

There were no problems in the press premiere, though, and I have to admit the recorded tunes sounded great. So it's not necessarily a bad solution, though it's hardly ideal either.

Some of the singing was also less than ideal. Though the whole cast did a nice job in the acting department, some of the actors simply didn't have the vocal talent required for their roles. Mowgli and Tuna's (Patrick Henriksen and Cecilia Paul) duet was maybe the low point of the show. I'm no expert on music, so I can't tell you what went wrong. I can just say that neither of the singers sounded pleasant. On the other hand, though, some of the cast members were great singers. I especially enjoyed Birthe Wingren as the panther Bagheera – you can't really go wrong with her, I believe.

Earlier this fall, I predicted that this production would be worth seeing for Simon Häger as the snake Kaa alone. Turns out I was right. He was definitely the highlight of the show for me. Narcissistic, cruel, charming, and absolutely fabulous in both his old and new skins. And I'm not alone: both ladies I saw the show with were smitten, too.

Kent Sjöman as the wolf Akela
and Niklas Åkerfelt as the tiger Shere Khan

All in all, despite all its faults, I'm glad I saw Djungelboken. I wouldn't see it again, but going once was worth it for the visuals and some fun songs (and Häger's Kaa).

I'm sure I would've been quite into a show like this ten years ago, when excitement and action were still more important to me than fully coherent storytelling and top-notch vocal performances. This show might be a bit scary for the youngest children, but at least the kids around me seemed rather excited. So, if you're looking for a show for your kid that won't make you fall asleep either, book tickets for this one. Others might want to think twice.

Photos by Cata Portin.
See Häger's solo.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Echoes the Beating of the Drums

Please note: I saw the premiere of this production for free on the courtesy of Tampereen Teatteri.

Many people judge a good production of Les Misérables by how much it makes them cry. I don't. Though I love it, Les Misérables doesn't make me cry.

Instead, I know a good production of Les Mis by heart rate. The faster my heart beats during Do You Hear the People Sing reprise at the very end of the second act, the better the performance.

Yesterday, seeing the premiere of Tampereen Teatteri's Les Mis, I was afraid my heart might burst out of my chest.

This production is, apart from a couple of adds and a couple of cuts, a replica of Åbo Svenska Teater's Les Misérables (also directed by Georg Malvius). Therefore, if you wish to know more about the sets and direction, you might want to check out my ÅST review.

I've pretty much forgiven the theatre about staging a replica. It would've been really nice to see something new – but if they had to copy, I'm glad they copied the absolute best, copied it well, and modified it beautifully. I may write a full post about the differences in between the two when I get more familiar with the TT production, but in this post, I'm going to concentrate on the performances.

Before that, though, a couple words about the translation. First: if you don't speak Finnish but want to see this, no problem: the show has subtitles in English. Second: the Finnish translation Jukka Virtanen and Kristiina Drews (that I've disliked before) is more bearable when heard and not read, and there has been some fixing done for this production. It actually does have a couple of clever moments! Still, it's not great. Some of the wordings are so silly they made me laugh... It could be worse – but it could be way better, too.

But these performances make you forget about the awkward lyrics:

Jean Valjean: Tero Harjunniemi, Heikki Mäkäräinen (u/s)

What a gorgeous, gorgeous voice! Harjunniemi's Jean Valjean was a joy to listen to. I've never heard such an operetic voice in the part, apart from
Alfie Boe in the 25th Anniversary Concert. I like!

As for Harjunniemi's acting – I'm afraid I'll need to see this production for a second time before deciding what I think. I didn't dislike him, it's not that, he seemed to have a good grasp of the character. I just can't put what I liked and didn't like about him into words quite yet. Maybe I just concentrated too much on the lovely singing last night! I shall edit this entry when I see the show again and have a more solid opinion.

Edited to add 20/9/13: I saw the show again yesterday and have now decided what I think about Harjunniemi as Jean Valjean: I love him. It seems Harjunniemi's acting is a bit subtle, so it's hard to appreciate the facial expressions and such from the way back. But when you get to see him from the front rows... I was amazed. From an almost animal-like scary convict to the mayor to the dying man looking back at his life, this Valjean really grows and changes during the show. And sings so beautifully during all that growing as a person!

Edited to add 1/12/13: I was lucky enough to see Heikki Mäkäräinen as Jean Valjean yesterday. He had rather big boots to fill – but didn't disappoint one bit. Mäkäräinen is only 25 years old, so it's no wonder the tone of his voice is a bit too young for the part. Despite that, though, I really enjoyed his singing. It was clear he's also thought about the role a lot. He had some amazing little character moments.

I should also mention that I think Jonas Saari as Javert was the perfect opposing force to Mäkäräinen's Jean Valjean. I really liked the dynamic in between the two. To me, it felt more convincing and interesting than any other Jean Valjean and Javert pair I've seen in this production so far.

Javert: Sören Lillkung, Jonas Saari (u/s), Mikko Siltala (u/s)

Sören Lillkung, the principal Javert, was away due to illness last night. In his place, Jonas Saari played the role of Javert. And played it well! Though he is rather young for the part, Saari sung like a principal, his Stars was simply beautiful. I also liked his acting choices. A little moment where Saari backed away from the bridge briefly during Javert's Suicide stuck to me especially – I felt it was very poignant. All in all, a good performance, I wouldn't mind seeing Saari again (though I of course hope Lillkung gets better soon!).

Edited to add 1/12/13: I got to see Saari as Javert again yesterday. Has he gotten even better or had I just forgotten how good he is in the role? I couldn't even see half of Javert's Soliloquy from my seat and was still so impressed I had a hard time remembering to breathe.

Edited to add 20/9/13: When I saw the show again on September 19th, Lillkung was still away and Mikko Siltala played the role. Siltala is what I would call a standard Javert: he sung the part well and I don't have any major complaints about his acting, but no moment really stood out either. Apart from the moment in the very beginning where Javert drops Valjean's ticket of leave – deliciously nasty. Still, as far as understudies go, I'd rather see Saari again.

Edited to add 11/10/13: Finally! Sören Lillkung is back as Javert!

Tampereen Teatteri's Les Misérables is Lillkung's third time playing Javert. I've seen him in Åbo Svenska Teater before, and, if possible, I think his acting has gotten better since the ÅST production. His Javert truely feels like a real person, every acting choice seems well thought out to me. And then there's the voice. Javert's songs can't get much better than this, they sound insanely good. Since both of the leads have classical training, The Confrontation is a treat to the ears.

In short – I couldn't be happier Lillkung's back. (Just please give the man some decent-looking sideburns. He deserves better.)

Fantine: Ele Millistfer
Lovely. Very very beautiful voice, such strong acting and singing during I Dreamed a Dream (chills ran down my spine), such gentleness and beauty during the Epilogue.

In this production, I Dreamed a Dream was moved after Lovely Ladies, like in the movie. It was a good choice but had its cost. The song makes much more sense in its new place, but on the other hand, having two big ensemble numbers back to back (At the End of the Day and Lovely Ladies) feels too heavy and makes Fantine's descent feel rushed. But the song itself is a lot more powerful in its new place, sung after Fantine has hit the rock bottom. So, as a whole, I think it's a good choice.

The Thénardiers: Ville Majamaa / Risto Korhonen and Ritva Jalonen 

Compared to the Åbo Svenska Teater production the Thénardiers had more funny moments here (though they're still not – thank goodness – West End-level funny).

I dislike Thénardiers that are there only for the laughs. Luckily, the humor here was delivered well, and Majamaa's Dog Eats Dog balanced the situation nicely: it's one of the most vile, creepy takes of the song out there. Good job with that! There was also nice chemistry in between the pair.

Fun fact: Ritva Jalonen played Fantine in the 1984 Tampereen Teatteri production of the original 1980 concept version of Les Misérables!

Edited to add 11/10/13: Risto Korhonen as Thénardier... He looks quite a lot like my mental image of Thénardier, but to be honest, I didn't find much in his performance to like. Korhonen really overdoes the humorous scenes. He tries to be funny so hard that the whole performance ends up unfunny.

To make the matters worse, I think Korhonen's Dog Eats Dog is bland, not nasty enough at all to balance the rest of his performance. I also think Jalonen's Mme T. has better chemistry with Majamaa's Thénardier.

Marius: Tomi Metsäketo
Metsäketo has played Marius previously in Helsingin kaupunginteatteri and Åbo Svenska Teater, and I'm afraid he has now done the role one time too many. Metsäketo's performance hasn't changed from the ÅST production at all. Though he has some good moments, I don't feel he's good enough to warrant the age gap: especially when contrasted with the 20-something-year-olds as Cosette, Éponine and Enjolras, a 39-year-old Marius feels too old (I've discussed this issue previously).

I also think that Metsäketo's take of the part is starting to sound, for the lack of a better word, too operatic. Personally, I prefer Mariuses with more boyish voices.

And what's up with the hairstyle?

Cosette: Sarah Nedergård

Such a lovely princess! Nedergård's Cosette was about everything I hope to see in the character: bubbly and dreamy, but also headstrong, with a beautiful voice. Not to mention that she looked cute as a button in her costumes!

The connection in between Jean Valjean and Cosette felt especially clear and true here, I truely believed Valjean when he sung that Cosette is the best of his life. I also really liked the moment where Cosette and Éponine see each other through the gate.

Éponine: Saara Lehtonen / Pia Piltz

Another gorgeous voice, On My Own really doesn't get better than this. And great acting on top of that!

I liked that Lehtonen's Éponine seemed somehow almost a little out of balance, reminding me of the book's description of the character. One of the most multi-dimensional Éponines I've ever seen: full of frustration, love, anger, desperation, even happiness.

Edited to add 22/9/13: Acting-wise Pia Piltz, the alternate Éponine, is just as good as Lehtonen. If not better! She also does a great job highlighting the different aspects of her character's personality. With these two actresses, it's perfectly clear there's a lot more to Éponine than her unrequited love. To me, it feels like these Éponines are almost mad at themselves for loving Marius – though they know they can't change the way they feel.

Singing-wise, however, I prefer Lehtonen. Piltz sings the part well, but Lehtonen is nothing short of awesome.

Enjolras: Samuel Harjanne / Lauri Liiv

Harjanne already played Enjolras in Åbo Svenska Teater. Then, I wasn't completely convinced: I thought he sung well but acted the part way too angrily. But now... He sings the part, he acts the part, he looks the part. He has truely become Enjolras.

I only wish, and this is nitpicking, that he would sing the character's last note ("until the earth is free"). It's clear that Harjanne isn't struggling with the part vocally, every note sounds so beautiful sung by him – so why not sing the last one?

Edited to add 1/12/13: To my disappointment, Harjanne's performance has been getting more angry again lately. Luckily, I finally got to see Lauri Liiv as Enjolras yesterday. Didn't take but six times in the audience... But I guess best things are truely worth waiting for – I was thoroughly impressed.

I have a hard time putting it into words what I want to see in my ideal Enjolras, but Liiv met that mysterious criteria almost perfectly. The blocking has some odd moments in the beginning of ABC Café that I don't think really fit Liiv's interpretation (spinning around with a knife bothers me especially), but that's again nitpicking, the performance was amazing. I especially liked how there was a real sense of friendship and caring in between Liiv's Enjolras and the barricade boys.

A great performance all the way through to the most effective death scene in recent memory, definitely a new favourite.

Finally, some shoutouts to smaller yet important roles:
  • Topi Lehtomäki as the Bishop. The best one I've seen onstage so far.
  • Lauri Liiv as Bamatabois. The slimiest, most disgusting, best Bamatabois I've ever seen. Great! Edited to add 22/9/13: I've now seen Liiv as Bamatabois three times and feel like I could write an ode for him in the role. I've never been this amazed by a performance in such a short role. I want to see Liiv play all the nastiest onstage villains out there – based on his Bamatabois, I'm sure he'd be perfect.
  • Kudos to the child actors! All of them were honestly very good. And kudos to the director for increasing little Éponine's time onstage by having her help her parents pickpocket during Master of the House. Edited to add 22/9/2013: I think I've now seen all the Gavroches. I couldn't wish for better performances! I think Arvid Lundén is my favourite: small and cute but filled with huge confidence and topped with a great voice – a true Gavroche. But the other two, Sampo Lintula and Niilo Karppinen, are good too. A big applause to all three!

All in all, I used to have all sorts of fears and gripes about this production, but I don't anymore. I've a feeling I'm going to see this a dozen times more, and I'm also quite certain it will make my heart beat twice its usual speed each time.

    Photos by Harri Hinkka.
    Related: interview with Tero Harjunniemi, interview with Samuel Harjanne.

    Thursday, September 12, 2013

    Tomorrow We'll Discover

    I've been waiting for Tampereen Teatteri's production of Les Misérables for a year and a half.

    Two months after having to say goodbye to my beloved Åbo Svenska Teater production, Tampereen Teatteri arrived to the rescue and announced they'll be premiering a new Finnish production of Les Mis in fall 2013.

    Tomorrow, the wait is over.

    The premiere is happening in less than 24 hours, and I will be there.

    Whatever happens tomorrow, whether the show will turn out to be fantastic or the audience will fall asleep before the first intermission, whether I will laugh or cry or be bored to tears... In a way, the most exciting part of being a Les Mis fan is, once again, almost over.

    The excitement of a new Finnish production of Les Mis being announced. The initial annoyance after hearing it'll be something of an ÅST Les Mis replica (what if it isn't as good? Or, even worse – what if it's better?). Then, all the previews, sneak peeks and promo photos... It has been so much fun keeping up with the updates, speculating and guessing.

    Tomorrow, the speculations will be over for good.

    There are many nice things in store after the premiere: seeing alternates and understudies, watching the performances evolve – not to mention the joy of seeing my favourite musical live again. But there's something special in the looking forward period. I'm confused: where did the year and a half go? Has it really been so long since the announcement?

    And even though I'm feeling almost nostalgic about all that time – how will I survive the hours left until seven o'clock tomorrow?

    My expectations for tomorrow are high.

    I still have some worries about the production (the feelings I wrote about in this entry aren't all quite outdated yet), but in general, I'm feeling good. There are many people in the cast I'm very excited to see, the sneak peeks and press photos have looked nice, the comments from people who've seen the previews range from positive to gleeful.

    Will this production of Les Mis be as special to me as the ÅST one? Probably not, not in the same way. ÅST's Les Mis was a life-altering experience for me and I doubt anything will ever be quite like it. But maybe the TT one will also be important to me, in a different way? Or maybe it'll just be a nice thing to have around for the times I feel like seeing my favourite musical live? Or something else – hate, love, indifference?

    Tomorrow we'll discover.

    Photo by Harri Hinkka.

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    Mini Review: Avenue Q

    As I briefly mentioned in my previous post, I spent the last two weeks of summer 2013 in the United States of America! To make it even more exciting, my American trip included a little visit to Canada. Apart from all my belongings being investigated by the border control, I had a very nice day in Vancouver, British Columbia.

    And what trip to Canada is complete without seeing some musical theatre? Not mine. I got to see Avenue Q, performed by Arts Club Theatre Company at Granville Island Stage.

    It's a shame Canada is so far away from Finland. Based on this sneak peek of the Canadian musical theatre scene, I fell in love already!

    I wonder if it makes much sense for me to review Avenue Q performances. It seems the character voices and performances always follow certain patterns, no matter which production. Being a new fan of the musical, however, I'm afraid I can't really compare this cast to any others. But even so, I can safely to say the Canadian cast was all-around brilliant, all seven cast members were such talented singers and performers! I especially admired Scott Bellis, who played Nicky, Trekkie Monster and one of the Bad Idea Bears. How is it even possible he can change his voice completely like that when changing characters?

    As for the musical itself – the first act was some of the best musical theatre I've ever seen, really. I had of course heard many of the songs before, so it was great seeing them in context. And all the scenes were so funny! I don't think I stopped smiling for a second during the first half, it was that much fun.

    The second half, then, disappointed me. I don't remember seeing a script run out of steam during the second act as badly as Avenue Q's did. The second act felt almost like an unnecessary add. I felt the charity drive subplot and the ending wasn't in line with the mood of the first half, and most of the songs weren't as memorable either.

    My gripes about the script, or course, nothing to do with the brilliant cast, nor does the second act diminish the funny moments of the first one. I would see this again just for the first act – if I were Canadian, that is. Even though the second half drags, the first one is clever and funny enough to lift the whole thing well above average. Not to mention the all-around enjoyable performances!

    This production is still playing for four nights. If you're in Vancouver at the moment: go go go!

    Avenue Q has also been done in Finland, but it seems no material of that production has survived. But here's something that happened quite close, geographically, and amuses me quite a lot... Avenue Q's Swedish cast performs Om du var gay:

    Thursday, August 15, 2013

    Helsinki Season Starters

    I attended two theatrical season opening events this week: Helsingin kaupunginteatteri and Svenska Teatern. They're two of the biggest theatres in the Finnish capital, one Finnish and the other Swedish-speaking.

    Let's start with a video clip from the season opening:

    The feeling persists that Tuukka Leppänen will be quite something as the title character of Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's upcoming production of Doctor Zhivago the musical.

    Doctor Zhivago, a musical by Lucy Simon, Michael Korie, Amy Powers and Michael Weller, has only been produced three times before: a test run in a Californian theatre in 2006, then a revised production premiering in Australia in 2011 and a run in Korea in 2012. So, Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's production will not only be the Nordic premiere, it'll be the first production of the musical in the whole Europe!

    After last year's Fiddler on the Roof, the king of all overdone classics, I'm glad Helsingin kaupunginteatteri is taking a chance with an unknown musical. Though, from what I saw and heard in the season opening, I feel a strange familiarity... The musical is based on Boris Pasternak's classic novel where the events are tied to a revolutionary movement. The director Hans Berndtsson told that the piece's central themes are love and pain. It was mentioned the musical is sung-through.

    "Doctor Zhivago is a story is about love in all of its most difficult forms, but it's also describes the suffering of the Russian people in the beginning of the 20th century", Berndtsson described the musical's plot. "The original novel is one of the darkest in history, but the theme of love draws people to it."

    Sounds rather familiar, right? The original Les Misérables premieres in Tampere this fall, so Finnish audiences can compare the two themselves. Or maybe Zhivago is Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's late answer to Svenska Teatern's Kristina från Duvemåla – yet another spectacle that strongly resembles Les Mis?

    In any case, dramatic and pain-filled musicals are my favourites, so I'm excited! I like the songs already. And, as mentioned earlier, I don't think you can go wrong with Tuukka Leppänen... No complaints about the other leads, such as Anna-Maija Tuokko, Marika Westerling, Esko Roine and Antti Timonen, either.

    The theatre also presented their other 13 premieres for the fall. Sadly, I don't think anyone over ten but under 40 years old would find the selection too interesting. Children's plays, parenting troubles, the struggles of the elderly... It was briefly mentioned how the theatre wants to work with young people and help them find an interest in theatre. More productions with themes people under forty can relate to could be one way to go.

    More from the season opening

    I visited Svenska Teatern's season opening event this week too, and just like with HKT, I was mainly interested in the new musical of the season. HKT is not the only theatre in Helsinki premiering an unknown musical this fall.

    Svenska Teatern, Finland's biggest Swedish-speaking theatre, is premiering Djungelboken. Originally called A dzsungel könyve, it's a Hungarian family musical by László Dés, Péter Geszti and Pál Békés that's never been seen in Finland before. The Svenska Teatern production will be directed by Hungarian director György Böhm. Patrick Henriksen, Birthe Wingren (who stole my heart as Kristina från Duvemåla's Ulrika) and Arne Nylander, among others, will be playing the leads.

    Maybe the theatre felt that after last year's no doubt expensive Kristina från Duvemåla (and possibly before next year's Mamma Mia!..?), something a little smaller on scale and for a different audience was needed for this season. This seems like quite a nice choice to fill that void. From the little previews we saw in the season opening, it seems Djungelboken is going to be a colourful and energetic musical.

    Djungelboken is called a family show, so I might not be a part of its intended audience, exactly. Still, I'm thinking of taking a trip to Svenskan – if for nothing else, at least to see Simon Häger as the snake Kaa. Or what do you say about the following sneak peek from their season opening:

    Still want to see more? Bonus videos: Doctor Zhivago, Djungelboken.
    I'd love to write about other Finnish theatre season opening events too, but sadly,  I can't make it this year... For the next two weeks, I'll be visiting Washington, USA, you see! Talk to you when I'm back in Finland again!

    Thursday, August 8, 2013

    Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

    Last spring, I saw Turun kaupunginteatteri's production of Jekyll & Hyde twice. After the first time, I felt I need a second viewing before I can write a review. The feeling persisted after the second time. However, seeing how I've had the whole summer to ponder about this, I guess it's no use procrastinating about this longer.

    Usually, the more you think about something, the more sense it starts to make. But when it comes to Jekyll & Hyde's plot, I have opposing feelings: here, a little thinking just makes everything worse. The characters' motivations aren't explained, you don't really know why they do what they do... All in all, I feel the musical would need some rewriting, and I suspect I'm not the only one who thinks so. Add some dull songs and odd lyrics and you have a mess any theatre lover would have a reason to criticise.

    However, for once, I don't even care. This production has stolen my heart. It's maybe the best musical I saw during the 2012–2013 season.

    Sometimes, pure glitter and glamour is all you need. Turun kaupunginteatteri's Jekyll & Hyde delivers that. It's one of the prettiest productions I've ever seen in Finland and firmly in my top five of prettiest productions anywhere ever.

    I love it when things are done big. There are times and places for simple and minimalistic, but I adore a full-blown period-costumed spectacle spiced with some flames and bulletwounds. Jekyll & Hyde has it all. The set is big and beautiful. From leads to every member of ensemble hidden in the shadows of the set, every costume is lovely to look at. And the special effects, blood and pyrotechnics! They all left me staring at the stage with my mouth open. This production is absolutely beautiful.

    Teemu Loikas's sets, Pirjo Liiri-Majava's costumes, Janne Teivainen's lights, the work of everyone involved with the visuals of this production – my applause.

    Luckily, the acting and singing are just as good as the visuals.

    I guess everyone was a bit surprised when first hearing Riku Nieminen would be cast in the titular role. He is famous in Finland for many things, but not for starring roles in musical theatre – before now. Based on the little I knew about the show beforehand, I thought Nieminen seemed quite different from the other actors famous for the role and wondered if he's really the best one for the part or if it's just a case of stunt casting... After seeing the show twice, I can safely say he's a great pick.

    Especially when remembering this is his first leading role in a musical, I think Nieminen's singing was impressive. Some strained notes here and there, but as a whole, I loved listening to his voice. I also admired his physicality. How is it even possible he can do a backflip and sing at the same time..?

    Nieminen's acting was also impressive, he did a good job portraying the main character's both sides. Reading the book the musical is based on, I was disappointed that Henry Jekyll's looks changed when he took the potion that transformed him into Edward Hyde. It was also underwhelming to find out that many productions of the musical do something similar, with tricks such as different hairstyles for Jekyll and Hyde. I feel it's much more fascinating if the transformation makes Jekyll's personality and mannerisms, instead of his looks, so different that even his friends can't recognise him. Though it demands some suspension of disbelief, I'm glad the Finnish production took the latter route instead of messing around with hairdos.

    The leading ladies, Jennie Storbacka as Emma and Anna Victoria Eriksson as Lucy, were talented too. It'd be interesting to see their characters explored further, it's a shame the script doesn't allow them to do much else than pine about a guy – but they at least delivered said pining beautifully! Special nod to Severi Saarinen as Jekyll's friend Utterson. His performance ensured that Utterson became my number one favourite character in a matter of minutes.

    Even though everything else is pure goodness, I have to return to the plot for a minute. I feel it's a shame the musical doesn't delve deeper into a certain theme: is the main character Henry Jekyll hooked on being Edward Hyde and seeks the transformation voluntarily, or is it an experiment that's gotten out of hand? The director Tuomas Parkkinen mentioned addiction many times before the musical's premiere. I feel the theme could have been explored more thoroughly in the actual show. As it is, the issue is just briefly touched upon. This musical is a treat for those who enjoy coming up with their own backstories and solutions – the plot and direction don't offer many unambiguous answers.

    I could go on about the plot and its faults for longer, but ultimately, I don't truly care. Sitting in the audience (which I no doubt will be doing in the fall again), the holes in the plot don't bother me. I just enjoy the beautiful spectacle.

    Photos by Robert Seger.