Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Brothers Johnstone

What is the deal with Blood Brothers?

Before closing last year, the show played for 24 continuous years in the West End. It still tours the United Kingdom. With such statistics, you'd think there's a pretty solid Blood Brothers fandom out there.

If there is, five years as a musical fan hasn't been a long enough time to encounter it. I've never talked to anyone who calls Blood Brothers as one of their favourite shows. It's never mentioned in musical fans' discussions, hardly anyone I know has even seen it. I definitely can't name a single song from it.

Yet productions keep popping up, even in Finland. I saw the second-to-last performance of Tampereen Teatteri's production (Veriveljet) this Saturday.

A while ago, a friend and I discussed musicals where the quality of the music and plot don't match. We came up with plenty of shows where good tunes saved a silly plot, but couldn't come up with a single one where a fascinating plot made up for a bad score. Sadly, we found that show in Blood Brothers.

Blood Brothers is a story about a pair of twins separated at birth. It's a very interesting tale, with lots of moments for strong emotions. Nature versus nurture – what happens when one of the twins grows up in a posh upper-class family and the other as the eight child of a working-class single mother? The boys become best of friends, their mothers can't tell the truth to them, and as they grow older, the stakes grow higher...

The script was pretty strong, but not problem-free: the first act felt a bit too slow, the second way too fast. The song at the very end felt useless and sucked the effect out of the ending scene. It was also a weird decision to start the show with showing how it's going to end. But in general, the musical's funny moments felt genuinely funny and the touching moments truely touching, and the two were at a good balance. The brothers' story broke my heart a little, I'm only sorry their relationship wasn't explored even further.

But then there's the music. It's a wonder a story filled with such drama can inspire music like this: the score seemed to consist of one unmemorable song. No ups, no downs, no different tunes or styles for different characters. The music was pleasant enough to listen to, but every melody sounded the same. Even though I think 75% of the songs were reprises, I couldn't remember a single tune after the show, even when I tried to hum them.

I've never before attended a musical where the audience doesn't applaud after a single one of the songs. (And this was the 85th musical performance I've seen during the last five years, mind you...)

At first, I was happy about that the musical had a narrator. Narrator-type characters can be fascinating! Too bad it turned out the character was useless in this show. He only had one song. It didn't advance the plot and wasn't good enough to warrant repeats, but it was repeated five times nevertheless. Seeing how the other characters did some of the narrating too, I don't feel the actual Narrator was of any use here.

It didn't help Jussi Selo was a complete cardboard cutout in the role. He had all the stage presence and acting chops of a lifeless cellulose product, I'm afraid! Selo has a nice voice, but it's clear he's not an actor. I've heard others say Sami Hintsanen, the alternate Narrator, was loads better in the role. I'm certain they're right. It'd be difficult to be any more lifeless and bland than Selo was.

Other than the Narrator, the characters were strongly written, and other than Selo, I liked the cast. Rinna Paatso gave a beautiful performance as Mrs. Johnstone, the twins' mother. The character has both a fragile, guilt-ridden side and a good sense of humor, and Paatso balanced the two well. Jussi-Pekka Parviainen and Martti Manninen were quite amazing as the twins. During the first act, I had no doubt they were just almost eight years old! Their friendship felt very real, which made the second half of the second act quite painful to watch – in a good way.

Overall, I'm glad I saw this show, and the Tampereen Teatteri production of it. Still, I don't understand how it's possible Blood Brothers is so popular. It's an interesting story, but I don't understand how a show with such bland music has been seen by so many people.

Any Blood Brothers fans reading this who would like to explain their point of view to me? I'd appreciate any comments, I'm genuinely curious to find out if there are people who call this their favourite show!

Photos by Harri Hinkka / Tampereen Teatteri.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Vampire Fates

When I took my matriculation exam, one of the subjects for the Finnish essay was Why Do Vampires Fascinate People? I wrote about vampires as a metaphor for sexuality and used Tanz der Vampire as an example – and got the best grade. I'll recap some of those thoughts here. Everyone's free to both agree and disagree.

I think it's a pretty valid interpretation that, in Tanz der Vampire (as in many other vampire stories), becoming a vampire is a symbol of one's sexual awakening. Early in the show, it seems like Sarah has a choice to make: the vampire count symbolises sexuality while Alfred symbolises romantic love. What makes Tanz different from many stories with similar symbolism, like The Phantom of the Opera, is that in the end, Sarah chooses both – by turning Alfred into a vampire.

However, in Tanz der Vampire, becoming a vampire could also symbolise freedom. That's how Sarah sees it: she dreams of attending the vampire ball and uses the Count as a means to escape her boring, restrictive life. She later finds out that the reality of being a part of the vampire world isn't quite like her dreams. Alfred, then, first seems afraid of the vampire world. As the events advance, he gains more understanding about vampires and secretly dreams about being one of them.

The story ends well for both Sarah and Alfred. The both walk to their own, separate directions (at least in the Finnish production). They're free from their old lives, free from the people who used to control them, ready to decide their own fate.

All in all, becoming a vampire can be seen a symbol of all sorts of positive things – if we erase one of Tanz der Vampire's characters from our minds. How does Magda, the servant girl harassed by the inkeeper Chagal and then turned into a vampire by him, fit all of this?

I'd say she doesn't.

Magda, unlike Sarah, doesn't become a vampire willingly. Chagal, the innkeeper who has been harassing her, drains her blood while she's kicking and screaming. Before Magda turns into a vampire, she talks about her hate towards Chagal – but after growing some fangs, we see her getting close with him.

Becoming a vampire is definitely a sexual awakening for Magda too. Her newfound feelings are, however, directed towards a man who didn't care about her consent while making his advances previously. Instead of getting a revenge or gaining some benefit for herself, Magda's role as a vampire seems to be fulfilling Chagal's dream. All the others gain something in the transformation. Even Chagal, who is easily the most despicable of the musical's characters, gets the freedom to chase skirts all he wants. Magda is the only one who gets nothing. Her so-called happy ending is that she learns to accept her situation.

Sure, Tanz is a parody of vampire stories, so you need to have a stereotypical sexy vampire lady in there. But still, I think the implications of Magda's fate are horrifying. She stands up to Chagal in Tot zu sein ist komisch, but in the end, Chagal gets completely off the hook. There are very, very unfortunate undertones in there: if a man continues to harass a woman long enough, she will finally give in... Unlike Sarah, Magda doesn't get the chance to become the independent hero of her own story.

I can't but hope Magda's appearance in the Finale – walking center stage on her own to start the last song, then sharing the spotlight with Herbert – is a hint about her future. Maybe she dumps Chagal after the vampire ball, becomes best friends with Herbert, takes over the world? 

Magda deserves way better than the musical gives her, so that's what I'm going to believe.

Photos by Ari Ijäs.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Some Miserable Opinions

Jordan (check out her blog, Pamina's Opera House) surprised me today with a Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

Thank you so so much, this makes me feel very flattered!

The rules go that whoever gets this award must share seven facts about themselves. Seeing how I'm very bad at coming up with facts about myself, and seeing how Jordan also asked me to talk a little more about my opinions considering the Les Misérables movie...

Siiri's Top 7 (Unpopular) Opinions on the Les Mis Movie no particular order.
  • I enjoyed Russell Crowe as Javert, both vocally and acting-wise. Stars was the highlight of the movie for me. I couldn't see the screen through my tears during the scene, it was that good. With the visuals of Paris at night and Javert looking at the skies... I finally saw Javert as a real, flesh-and-blood person, not just as an opposing force to Jean Valjean. Weirdly enough, Javert's Soliloquy later on didn't touch me in a similar manner. I blame the cuts, and the fact that Stars had squeezed all the tears out of me an hour earlier.
  • I think it's a shame the movie didn't do more with the orchestrations. Stars was rearranged beautifully, but other than that, nothing in the orchestrations caught my attention. I don't mean to say the music wasn't pretty. It was, I especially love the end credits medley. I'm just a bit sorry the movie didn't reimagine the orchestrations like it reimagined, for example, the costumes.
  • I didn't think Aaron Tveit was anything special as Enjolras. He sung the part well but didn't make me feel a thing. I wonder, though, if seeing all the cut scenes would affect my opinion.
  • Other than Russell Crowe, my favourites were Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche and Isabelle Allen as little Cosette. Usually, I don't much care for the kid roles, but these two were perfect! Finally, Castle on a Cloud actually made me feel for the character instead of making me feel like fast-forwarding to the next scene. Also, got to mention Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne. It was sweet seeing the original Valjean pass the candlesticks onwards on the big screen. I grinned so widely my face hurt.
  • The movie could've done so much more with the locations. On My Own, for example. Why didn't they show Éponine walking the streets of Paris, actually give us the visual of the lights in the river? I felt there were way too many closeups and way too few shots establishing the environment.
  • Jean Valjean's death was the most beautiful part of the movie. I'm glad the movie made many fans' dream come true and had the Bishop welcoming Valjean into heaven, instead of featuring Éponine. Do You Hear the People Sing reprise didn't work as well. Are they stuck in an eternal battle at the heaven barricade? You'd think a revolutionist's heaven would be a world where barricades don't need to exist. It must've been a hard scene to adapt, and I can see why they chose to feature the barricade. I guess it can't be helped the abstract theatrical take works better.
  • Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean was the least pleasant vocal performance in the movie. I don't want to hear his Bring Him Home ever again.

There's no specific number of blogs the award should be given to. I'll give it to three inspiring bloggers (though also check out my blog's sidebar, every blog is there for a reason):
  • Laura, One Night in Theatre. In her theatre reviews, Laura often puts my thoughts into words better than I could – and when we disagree, her opinions are still interesting to read about. Mostly in Finnish, but you can find English entries in the archive too.
  • Marine, Marine - Art! Some of the cutest illustrations out there! In French and English, but the art speaks for itself. I'm especially in love with her traditionally coloured works.
  • Talle at Teatterikärpäsen puraisuja 2. I'm impressed by the sheer amount of shows she sees and reviews! Thumbs up for the actor interviews. In Finnish.
I'd love to hear seven facts about you (or about anything you find interesting, if you want to cheat a bit like I did here) – but no pressure, just enjoy the award if you don't feel like fact-sharing!