Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year

I've said this every year for the past five, but I'm going to say it once more: it's been the wildest theatrical year ever.

~50 times as an audience member. Six different countries. Premieres, travels, a summer theatre marathon. So many interesting shows, meeting new people and having fun with old friends, finding new favourite shows and productions and actors... It's been an amazing year, so much fun I can hardly believe it. I'm so, so grateful to have been able to experience this all.

Including three of my favourite musicals closing on the same night.

Next year is going to be very theatrical too, but in a different way. I'm going to intern in Turun kaupunginteatteri. That Finnish production of Jekyll & Hyde I've referred to in every second post I've written this year (and also in that drawing there)? That was theirs. I won't be working with the arts though, but in the office website, social media, public relations... I'm very very excited about this and can't wait to begin!

An internship might however mean I won't have so much time to blog. But no panic. No matter how busy I may be, this blog will still be updated: I've scheduled a four-part series of articles about the past and present of Finnish musical theatre to be published during January and February.

I originally wrote the articles for school, and in Finnish. I don't know if they interest many people outside Finland. But in case there is even one person interested in Finnish theatre who doesn't speak the language but would still like to know more... Just like I write this blog in English for that person, I've also translated the articles for them. I hope you enjoy.

So, onwards to the new year we go. Very happy and theatre-filled 2015 to all of you!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mini Holiday in Chicago

Funny how small things can sometimes lead to bigger journeys. And when it comes to this hobby, or passion, or way of life, or whatever watching theatre is for me – in the world of theatrical adventures, that's even more true than usually.

If Åbo Svenska Teater (to my great dismay) hadn't recast Enjolras in early 2012, Elina probably wouldn't have seen their Les Misérables at all. If she hadn't, I wouldn't have met her, let alone making friends with her. And if I we hadn't made friends, who would have travelled to Stockholm with me last weekend to see our favourite actor Chris Killik play Mary Sunshine in Stockholms stadsteater's production of Chicago? No one, that's who!

Also, no matter how short-lived ÅST's recent production of Jesus Christ Superstar was, I guess we need to thank the theatre for introducing us to a new favourite in the role of Judas. So, a hat tip to Åbo Svenska Teater. And now we're off to Stockholm, and to Chicago!

There, on the right side of the picture!

In short, Stockholm's Chicago is the production I've been wanting to see ever since first seeing the show on Broadway.

In Stockholms stadsteater's version of this story about rivalrous murderesses, everything's included. From tap dancing to Mary Sunshine being played by a man... All those details I like but the two most recent Finnish productions have chosen to ignore. Yet it's not a replica but has its own spin. (I especially liked how the whole orchestra, gentlemen included, is dressed as 20s flapper girls.) Overall, very good!

Negatives first, though: Dan Ekborg as the leading man Billy Flynn is the weakest link of the cast. Ekborg doesn't carry himself like the most successful lawyer in town. The super charismatic outer layer Billy Flynn should have is missing, the whole character feels too slimy. Actually, I was somehow reminded of Miss Saigon's Engineer – a role Ekborg has also played, so who knows, maybe that suited him better.

But then the positives: I really liked all the leading ladies. Lisa Nilsson as Roxie, Sharon Dyall as Velma, and especially Kajsa Reingardt as Mama Morton – what a brilliant trio. Nilsson's Roxie is rather cold and calculating, a fascinating opposite to the current Finnish production's ditzy bimbo. Dyall and Reignardt are both so charismatic in their roles, they suit the parts perfectly.

Other highlights: Fredrik Lycke (he's Alexander Lycke's brother, and Alex in turn is my favourite Valjean and Jesus – I'm glad to have seen both brothers live now) makes a really sympathetic Amos. And, well, I don't know if I even need to mention Chris Killik as Mary Sunshine... I'm sure everyone has already guessed that both me and Elina thought he was fantastic. Talk about a killer falsetto!

Naturally, I tried to compare this with the current Finnish production. Both productions look and sound good in their different ways, I really can't say which one I like better.

The Finnish take is a bit more original, and Finland gets a bonus point or two for having an actually charismatic actor play Billy Flynn. On the other hand, Stockholm gets a point for including Hot Honey Rag, my favourite bit of the show, as a full-blown dance number. Not to mention Mary Sunshine – we of course wouldn't have seen the show at all had they cast someone else in the role. So five bonus points!

Even the orchestra is beautiful.

All in all, my second time visiting Stockholms stadsteater this year was a success. It wasn't as huge an experience as their Sweeney Todd... But seeing how that was huge for me mostly for the wrong reasons, I'm sort of glad it wasn't. A good way to finish this very fun and very busy theatrical year!

Photos by Petra Hellberg.
Related reading: Elina and I have even seen Shakespeare for Chris.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Meeting Count Dracula

It began, as many good things have, with Turun kaupunginteatteri's Jekyll & Hyde.

What do you do when a musical you love closes and you cannot watch it live again? Wallow in sadness and nostalgia, probably... but maybe also search Youtube for videos from other productions? That's what I and my friend did after seeing our last Jekyll & Hyde last spring. And after watching all manner of disappointing and bizarre bootlegs of Dr. Jekyll's story, we turned our attention to other musicals by Frank Wildhorn.

We watched Dracula, but that was hardly the reason we spent last weekend in Pforzheim, Germany. Instead, The Scarlet Pimpernel's to blame.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is not a good musical. The German production we found on Youtube was, we thought, largely horrendous goo. The mix of humor and drama was imbalanced, half of the cast not to our tastes, the amount of boring love songs almost unbearable, the plot almost incomprehensible. A complete mess, to be honest.

But in the middle of all that awful, there was this awesome-meets-insane revolutionary character who opposed the titular hero in a really sarcastic, determined, energetic manner. During one glorious scene, he even climbed on a table and wrapped himself in the flag of the republic while loudly shouting about his mission.

After suffering through the rest of the musical, we had to find out more about Chris Murray.

It turned out Youtube's full of Murray's performances. After marathoning some videos, it turned out we like him in pretty much everything he's done. And so, in less than two months after finding out the man exists, we booked our tickets to see him live in Theater Pforzheim. As Count Dracula in the Wildhorn musical, no less.

I have a love-hate relationship with Frank Wildhorn's musicals.

I don't really like any of them. They're all full of plot holes, silly lyrics and songs already featured in other shows. No matter which show, half of the songs sound the same. But a good production can sometimes transform the mediocre material, and that's where the love stems from.

Pforzheim's Dracula did something right. The show's still what it is, with its endless love songs and predictable melodrama... But it's also good. I found the direction's balance in between serious and silly perfect, and the characters felt more interesting than I thought was possible. The whole show was better than I expected it could be.

Seeing a solid production of the musical was an additional bonus, though. We were there for one reason.

It was odd seeing someone live I've only seen in videos before. Being a fan of Finnish musicals, this doesn't happen, since there are no bootlegs of Finnish theatre online. Sometimes, you can see Finnish TV or movie actors onstage, but that's hardly the same as seeing someone live whose stage musical performances you have already watched.

Chris Murray was just as amazing live as on recordings.

I didn't have words back in Pforzheim. Now, a week later, I still don't.

He was good.

It was nice really going to a German theatre after being a fan of German musicals for years. It was almost as fun observing the audience as it was watching the show. The applause and especially the curtain call were really enthusiastic, that's something we reserved Finns aren't used to. It was also fun going to the stagedoor after the show to actually meet our favourite performer. That's another rather foreign thing to us reserved Finns...

Maybe I should also say something about the musical itself.

I got the feeling the creative team had read their Dracula the novel. The character of Professor van Helsing, played by Jon Geoffrey Goldsworthy, felt particularily true to the book. What's more, the production made me invested in characters I didn't think I could care for. Hats off to Thomas Christ for a touching portrayal of Jonathan Harker – thanks for making shivers run down my spine during what I used to think was the most boring solo of the whole show.

This was a musical trip to remember. I'm crossing my fingers this wasn't my last time in a German theatre. And I hope it wasn't my last time seeing Chris Murray live, either!

To end this post, here are three of my favourite Chris Murray videos. I went to Pforzheim after watching these. Let me know if they take you on a journey, too.

The best Falcon in the Dive ever.

My favourite Confrontation. (Watch the full show for the ultimate experience.)

Okay, this is an audio recording, but nevertheless – my favourite song from Dracula.

Photos from Theater Pforzheim's Facebook.
Also check out: another review of the production.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Countdown to Dracula

I'm going to see Dracula the musical in Germany next weekend.

I'm not a Dracula fan. As I mentioned a while ago, I didn't even finish the book. I don't really adore the musical, either – it's nice, but not on my favourites list. Instead, it's the man playing the Count who made me want to book the flights... but more about that later.

In any case, I've been trying to get into the right mindset before the vampire trip. My bedtime stories have consisted fully of Dracula during the past few weeks. Now, I'm going to share the two gems I've read with you!

Major, major spoilers ahead.

The first book I read was Dracula's "official sequel", Dracula the Un-Dead by the original author's great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker and screenwriter Ian Holt.

This book is incredible. It's the very worst book I've ever read in my life.

Some books are bad because they're boring. But not Dracula the Un-Dead! It has a fast tempo and many, many exciting events – it hits a new, unbelievable low every five pages. My friends who saw me reading it can attest that during some of the twists and turns, facepalming with both hands wasn't enough. Every now and then, I had to rest my head on the table for a moment to calm down.

The book is set 25 years after the events of Dracula. It shows what has happened to the characters from the classic novel, and also introduces a couple of new faces. Like Mina and Jonathan's son Quincey Harker, the serial killers Elizabeth Báthory and Jack the Ripper, a Romanian actor called Basarab who's totally not a vampire count at all...

Dracula the Un-Dead is a wild ride that takes every chance to insult the reader's intelligence.

We find out that Mina has stayed young all these years because, having drunk Dracula's blood that one time, she now has immortality coursing through her veins. She's also still in love with her "Dark Prince".

And indeed, she has every reason to adore Dracula. Did you know that the Count was good all along? He only drinks blood from criminals and proclaims himself as a warrior of God. How about his fear of holy symbols? Nah, Bram Stoker just got that wrong in his book. Yes, good ol' Bram appears as a character in Dracula the Un-Dead. It is revealed he didn't come up with the plot of his famous novel himself at all. Instead, he got it from some drunk he met at a bar.

The drunk later turns out to be Professor van Helsing. Who then turns into a vampire, and enjoys the feeling of being undead.

In the grand finale of the story, we have Dracula telling "I am your father" to Mina's son. After this totally unpredictable revelation, the remaining handful of the novel's cast fall of a cliff. Heck, the bodycount simply wasn't high enough already! People were trampled, staked, decapitated, burned or bitten only once per every ten pages. The only character to survive is Dracula Junior.

As an epilogue, the son of Dracula wants to start a new life in the United States – and boards the RMS Titanic to travel across the Atlantic.

The authors' notes at the end make it clear this is not a parody.

Official sequel indeed. If the co-author was anyone else but Bram Stoker's great-grandnephew, I'm certain this book would have never hit the shelves. I'm kind of glad it did, though, because you rarely get to read a real printed book as crazy as this one.

To rinse the official sequel out of my brain, I returned to an old favourite. When I was younger, I loved Angela Sommer-Bodenburg's Anton und der kleine Vampir: Die Reise zu Graf Dracula, or The Little Vampire Meets Count Dracula.

The Little Vampire series is about Anton, whose best friend Rüdiger is a vampire. This installment focuses on Anton and his family's trip to Transylvania. Rüdiger has just moved to the land of his ancestors, and Anton wishes their paths will cross during the vacation. The friends indeed meet each other again, and Anton gets invited to a vampire party – a party the famous Count Dracula will also attend.

I wasn't a vampire enthusiast as a kid, but rereading this book, I now understad why I enjoyed it so much. Anton and his family's trip to Romania strongly reminds me of my own family's trips around Europe when I was younger! Endless car rides, sleeping my way through the countryside, seeing sights and staying in hotels and the feeling of being away from home... It's all here.

Reading this ten years ago, I didn't pay attention to the way the novel describes Romania. Now, it feels so dated it's almost funny. I suppose things were different in 1993 when the book was released. But the way the writing heavily underlines the sad state of Romanian plumbing, awful cuisine and hideous poverty of the people... I'd say the novel is a product of its time.

It's more than a travel journal, though. The central conflict of the story is actually about Anton being a human while is friends are immortal. 

Our young hero is deeply fascinated by vampires, but he's determined not to become one. His best friend Rüdiger and Rüdiger's little sister Anna were both bitten at a young age. Anton could choose to stay a child forever and spend an eternity with his best friends (and his vampire friends do remind him of this possibility). But no. Anton has decided to grow up, to live his human life. To embrace his mortality.

At the end of the book, the vampire siblings leave for a journey with their new mentor, Count Dracula. They don't know when they'll return, or if they'll ever come back to Germany where Anton lives. It might take years before the friends meet again. Who knows if Anton will be old when they next see each other – old, while his childhood friends are still and forever young?

The characters actually point this out. At one point, Anna is worried that Anton is changing because he's growing up. I admit I felt genuinely sad while reading this.

When comparing the two sequels I've read, The Little Vampire Meets Count Dracula is by far the more adult and profound story, that's what I'm trying to say.

Also that Dracula the Un-Dead is crap.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Christine of the Opera

Teater Vanemuine's take on The Phantom of the Opera is something new. And when it comes to Phantom, new is a big deal – only a handful of directors have ever been allowed to stage their own vision of the most popular musical of all times.

I'm so happy I got the chance to see this brand-new version of the classic. The Estonian production, directed by Georg Malvius, made me see the iconic story from a fresh point of view.

This production focuses on Christine's story. The young soprano is truely the heroine of the tale, with the men as her supporting players. Christine's growth as an artist and as a person are at the center of the story.

I really, really liked that. It was also refreshing to see the love triangle aspect of the story toned down.

In the original version of The Phantom of the Opera, I see the two leading men representing two different kinds of love Christine has to choose in between. Will she pick the romantic, safe, naïve relationship, or the sensual, mysterious, exciting one?

In the Estonian production, I felt none of that. It is clear that Christine's only true love, body and soul, is Raoul. She is drawn to the Phantom because he tricks her into believing he's a real angel of music, not because of any infatuation. When it turns out he is not an angel at all, her feelings are overpowered by fear.

I liked this. It made the Phantom's love towards Christine even more tragic, and Christine's ultimate choice made a bigger impact on me here as well. Since Christine seemed to have no romantic or sexual feelings towards the Phantom, her sacrifice during the final scene felt greater than in the original. Her love for Raoul was her sole motivation for choosing to spend a lifetime with the Phantom – a man she has learned to fear.

Of course, much of this is present in the original already. But the different nuances this production gives to the story made these points stand out to me. And you know what? I think I prefer the story the Estonian production tells to the original. I like how Malvius's direction doesn't pit romance and sexuality against each other on any symbolic level. And to be honest, this is the first time I've really felt the Phantom learning what love means when Christine kisses him.

And that kiss! Instead of a big kiss on the lips like in the original, Christine seals her decision by kissing the Phantom on his deformed cheek. A lovely nod back to the original novel by Gaston Leroux – and, for me, a much more effective moment than the original. The first act of compassion the Phantom's ever experienced felt so genuine and so selfless here.

I also liked how Christine and Raoul's relationship isn't perfect, though it is clear they love each other. After Raoul gives his little speech about every hope and prayer resting on Christine's shoulders (no pressure!), he tries to kiss her – and she pushes him away, leaving the scene. I loved that little moment. Raoul is not a perfect dashing suitor. He makes mistakes too, and Christine isn't afraid to show him if he has made one. And yet, true love prevails in the end.

To say Maria Listra is absolutely fantastic as Christine is a bit of an understatement. It's partially because of her stage presence that the focus is so strongly on Christine. I adored Listra in the role, both acting and especially singing-wise. She sang her part so beautifully. Chills ran down my spine during the whole Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, and judging by the huge applause, I wasn't the only one. I don't have a single bad word to say about her.

Stephen Hansen made an interesting Phantom. The character isn't easy to like, nor as suave as in the original. He tries to offer Christine the best he can, but he's clearly far too isolated from society to function in it properly anymore. Threatening yet awkward, a deranged genius meets a pitiable lost soul. The ending of Final Lair, with the Phantom coming to terms with what love means, touched me. Vocally, Hansen isn't as impressive as some of the Phantoms I've heard – but a fascinating portrayal nevertheless.  

Koit Toome's Raoul is a nice balance for the creepy Phantom. Nice, handsome, normal, yet also brave and a bit hot-headed. A guy you'd like to know. Someone you would feel safe being with.

I like how comic relief is added to the Phantom's story a bit more subtly than the usual musical way of slapping a huge funny song in the middle of suspense. I tend to enjoy the scenes with La Carlotta and the managers of the opera house, and I liked them here, too.

Lauri Liiv (familiar to us Finnish musical fans for his amazing portrayals of Enjolras and Bamatabois in Tampereen Teatteri's Les Mis, and therefore someone I paid special attention to) and Priit Strandberg as Messieurs Firmin and André do a good job lightening up the mood. I also really enjoyed Kristina Vähi's Carlotta. A true prima donna in every way, from her gorgeous singing to her perfect diva attitude. A force to be reckoned with!

Visually, the original Phantom is the most gorgeous show out there. Compared to the glitter and glamour of West End and Broadway, everything else is underwhelming. But, trying to forget that for a moment, I think this production looked nice. Not amazing, but not too bad either.

I quite liked the costumes by Ellen Cairns. I think they suit the characters well enough and actually look a bit better onstage than in pictures. My favourites include Carlotta and Piangi's couple costumes in Masquerade, with them attending the ball as the Queen of the Hearts and the White Rabbit. And say what you might, I think the Phantom looks good in a leather jacket!

The sets by Iir Hermeliin have their moments, but some of the key scenes were disappointments. The small and very slow-falling chandelier, the Phantom's odd space-age lair, the burrito-like pocket in front of the rooftop angel statue. Not really to my tastes. Putting the lake Phantom and Christine cross during the title scene on a bridge high above the stage is a nice touch, though. And the very end of the show looks very effective, I'd say more so than in the original.

The music, then, sounds absolutely gorgeous. A big orchestra combined with the fantastic voices in the cast... This is what a musical should sound like.

I've talked about how I love seeing the original Phantom for the smoke and the mirrors, but don't really get that much out of the story or the performances there. Watching this production, I felt the other way around. The visuals were not all that stunning, but I suddenly felt more for the characters.

I'm not saying Malvius's direction was perfect. Some scenes lacked suspense, some felt a bit confusing or awkward. But forgetting about minor faults and considering the story as a whole, I got more out of this vision than the original.

Wonder, then, what the Finnish non-replica version will have in store for us next fall?

Photos by Iir Hermelin and Tõnis Järs, from Vanemuine's website and Facebook. Hover over the photos for specific info.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Musical Sidetracks

Please note: Tampereen Työväen Teatteri invited me to see The Visit's premiere for free.

A while ago, I wrote about seeing weird shows for your favourite actors. Yesterday, I saw a play that got me thinking of the same thing, but from a different angle...

When it comes to my relationship with theatre, I'm primarily a musical fan. I enjoy straight plays too, but I'm much pickier about them. I only see plays that either really, really interest me or feature my absolute favourite actors. With musicals, then, I want to try out everything. If any musical is playing near me, I want to see it, no matter what it's about. I sometimes even go see musicals I'm sure I won't like, for the brief chance that I might change my mind and for the fact that they're still musicals.

Sometimes, this attitude makes me familiarise myself with non-musical things that I would have no interest in otherwise.

The fact that there's a German musical version of the play is why I took the chance to see Tampereen Työväen Teatteri's new production of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Der Besuch der alten Dame / The Visit (Vanhan naisen vierailu) yesterday. (Mini review in Finnish here.)

Visiting ladies, here and elsewhere.

I haven't seen the musical Der Besuch der alten Dame. I have listened to the CD a couple of times but don't obsess about the music I think it's nice and would like to see the show live, but it's nowhere near my list of favourites.

Still, somehow the fact that there's a musical version I have a cursory interest in made me want to see The Visit. I thought seeing the play would help me get deeper into the cast recording. Sure, the play itself seemed interesting enough, but without the musical, I would have passed the premiere invitation.

Similarily, I've sat through Finnish National Opera's production of La bohème solely because Rent is based on the opera.

In both these cases, I'm happy the musical made me see the other production. I found The Visit a very interesting play. Being familiar with the musical's cast recording, I already knew how the story was going to end, but it was nice watching the events unfold live onstage nevertheless. And when it comes to La bohème, I even have a CD of the opera in my collection nowadays. It was fun finding all the moments Rent references to, but the music was well worth hearing all on its own.

Not miserable enough for you? Also read the book.

It's not all about live entertainment, either. I've read plenty of books because they've inspired musicals. 

Victor Hugo's Les Misérables is so huge and heavy a novel that I don't think I would've ever touched it, were it not for the musical. A brick of a book about the misadventures of the unfortunate? Doesn't sound too exciting to me. Or Vilhelm Moberg's four-part Utvandrarna series. Without Kristina från Duvemåla I wouldn't even know the books existed. But after seeing the musical, it was great reading the series, getting a broader look at the lives of the characters and falling deeper in love with them. The books made me cry even harder than the musical!

Of course, all musical-related reading experiences are not as successful. 

I first quickly and panickedly read Bram Stoker's Dracula in high school (I took a risk and briefly analysed Dracula in my final exam, my knowledge of the story based solely on this set of Kate Beaton's comics. Afterwards, I was anxious to find out if I had made any sense at all). Getting into Dracula the musical this spring, I tried to reread the book. I still haven't made it all the way to the end. Since I'm not motivated by unadulterated panic anymore, I find the book boring. Get on with your vampire hunt already!

Pictured: a history lesson for my tastes.

Some musicals have even taught me about real history. A good example is the life of Eva Perón. Before I saw the musical Evita, I knew absolutely nothing of her. After seeing the show, I've read plenty about the real Eva Perón and even found myself discussing her life and legacy with an Argentine online friend. 

Shows that are based on works of fiction have taught me about history, too. Les Misérables and the Paris uprising of 1832, or Kristina från Duvemåla and immigration to the US during the 19th century the characters are fictional, but the events are real, and seeing the shows has made me more interested in the true stories that inspired the fiction. Even Jekyll & Hyde the musical has made me reasearch a thing or two about Victorian England.

That's one of the great things about being a musical fan. 

As long as it's packaged with enough catchy tunes, I can get interested in pretty much any story. Sometimes, being into a musical can morph into being into a thing in general, and that can lead into learning more about the thing in question.

In other words I've some German musical producers to thank for a nice premiere night in Tampereen Työväen Teatteri yesterday!

Photos by Kari Sunnari, Nana Simelius and Teppo Järvinen. As always, hover for exact info.
Turns out, by the way, that there are actually two musicals based on The Visit. An American version also called The Visit premiered in 2001! 


Dear international readers: this is a mini review about a Finnish production of Dürrenmatt's The Visit. You can read a related post in English here!

Huom. Näin esityksen lehdistölipulla.

Tampereen Työväen Teatterin Vanhan naisen vierailu on näytelmä, jota on ehdottomasti kiinnostavin katsoa, jollei tiedä sen juonta etukäteen. Tarinaa tuntemattomille avaan siis vain seuraavan verran:

Vanhan naisen vierailussa vararikon partaalla kituva Güllenin pikkukaupunki saa houkuttelevan tarjouksen. Güllenistä kotoisin oleva miljardööri, jonka visiitistä näytelmä on saanut nimensä, palaa synnyinkaupunkiinsa. Hän lupaa lahjoittaa kituvalle kaupungille kokonaisen miljardin. Yhdellä ehdolla hänen puoli vuosisataa sitten kokemansa vääryys tulee hyvittää.

Varakkaan vieraan sanelema erikoinen ehto kauhistuttaa ensin kaupunkilaisia, mutta kun toisessa vaakakupissa painaa miljardi, alkaa monen kunnon kansalaisen moraali rakoilla... Ovatko kaupunkilaiset valmiita luopumaan periaatteistaan maallisen mammonan vuoksi?

Tapahtumat eskaloituvat Tampereen Työväen Teatterissa tyylillä. Tuire Salenius on kylmäävän kiehtova pääroolissa Claire Zachanassianina, ja pidin myös Ilkka Koivulasta tämän tiukkaan paikkaan joutuvana nuoruudenrakastettuna.

Näytelmän tunnelma on toisaalta kammottava mutta omalla tavallaan myös mukaansatempaava. Alun kepeä, osittain mukahauskakin tunnelma lipsahtaa nopsaan hyytäväksi, mutta toisaalta pikimusta huumori pilkahtelee mukana loppuun asti.

Vanhan naisen vierailu esittelee kieroutuneen tarjouksen ja sen vaikutukset. Tarjolla on synkän huumorin ohella vääntynyttä yhteiskuntakritiikkiä, jännitystä ja ripaus kauhuakin. Näytelmä on kirjoitettu 1956, mutta se istuu nykyhetkeen pelottavan hyvin. Lavalla asetetaan vastakkain raha ja moraali. Ei ehkä niin kaukaa haettua kuin alkuun voisi kuvitella.

Uskallan suositella.

Kuvat: Kari Sunnari.
Mutta miksi päätin nähdä Vanhan naisen vierailun? Tämä teksti kertoo.
Lue myös Lauran arvostelu näytelmän musikaaliversiosta (sisältää enemmän spoilereita kuin tämä teksti).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Most Memorable

Everyone else – or at least a handful of Finnish theatre bloggers – is doing it, so I'm going to do it too. Make a list of theatrical productions that have left a lasting impression on you.

Here, in chronological order, are nine productions that have meant a lot to me. I'm stopping at nine because the list doesn't flow naturally beyond that. Out of the theatre I've seen so far, these nine are the truest and clearest standouts.

Kaislikossa suhisee, Turun kaupunginteatteri, 2004

This was a modernized version of The Wind in the Willows. It marks two firsts for me: the first time I remember I've been to theatre, and the first time I remember liking a play. I liked it so much I even bought a beanie with the show's slogan from the theatre. (Before anyone wonders why I was eleven years old already when I first saw theatre, let me assure you, I didn't grow up in a cultural vacuum. My mom took me to see ballet, modern dance and even opera. I didn't grow up to be a dance fan, but that's not for mom's lack of trying!)

Mamma Mia!, world tour, 2007

I've been an ABBA fan for pretty much as long as I can remember. (I can't remember how that started though. No one else in my family listens to ABBA. Mysterious.) I was awfully excited when the world tour visited Helsinki, and seeing the show was a magical experience.

Cats, Lahden kaupunginteatteri, 2008

The first Finnish musical I ever loved. After the international magic of Mamma Mia!, I was certain no Finnish theatre could ever produce a musical half as good... But when my mom suggested I should see some more theatre and I chose to see Cats – as I put it earlier, I wasn't sitting in my seat like so many others in the audience. I was flying.

The Phantom of the Opera, West End, 2009

Seeing the shiniest of the huge spectacle musicals for the first time was a very exciting experience. It felt like such a perfect show, I enjoyed every second, and the story continued to fascinate me for weeks afterwards. I still see Phantom whenever I'm in London and enjoy the smoke and mirrors every time.

Les Misérables, Åbo Svenska Teater, 2010

This was important on so many levels. First of all, it was a top-class production of what was my favourite musical already by this point. There was not a weak link in the cast, the leads' voices created such a beautiful mix, the non-replica direction by Georg Malvius felt so fresh after obsessing about the West End production for a year...

I got a couple of chances to meet the actors. I'll be an honest fangirl now – that was so exciting and awesome! I'm still grateful for the people who made that happen. It was so important to me... And maybe to some of them, too? I'll quote a comment one of the cast members left on my blog: Your devotion to the show made our nights at the theatre more important, and even more special than you think. I'm sure all of you who've ever been big fans of something understand what hearing that meant to me. Still does.

And then, most importantly, this production brought me together with so many new friends. I don't know if I would even know some of my current best friends if Åbo Svenska Teater hadn't decided to stage Les Mis.

No contest, this is the most important production of them all for me.

Tanz der Vampire, Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri, 2011

Another show that brought me together with many new friends. The mood in the theatre, both onstage and in the audience, was incredible. I've never experienced anything like that elsewhere. The audience absolutely loved the show (chances were that whoever sat next to you was seeing the show for the fourth time too), and for all I know, the cast really loved performing it... It was amazing.

The show's run was cut too short, but the legacy of the Finnish vampires goes on. There have been fan meetups and concerts with the cast members ever since, and more are coming up this fall. Vampires truely live forever!

Kristina från Duvemåla, Svenska Teatern, 2012

Hearing Maria Ylipää sing Du måste finnas made me cry harder than anything I've seen onstage, before or since. I felt shaken after seeing this. A really powerful experience.

Jekyll & Hyde, Turun kaupunginteatteri, 2013

This show was a true treat for my imagination. It has made me wonder about the pasts and the futures of the characters more than any other piece of theatre. I can think about this show, come up with new scenarios for the characters, and discuss them with likeminded friends for hours and with endless passion. I also really enjoy drawing Jekyll & Hyde scenes. It's great when theatre inspires you to create some art of your own!

Not to mention that this was such a fantastic show that if I could travel back in time, seeing this one more time would be one of my destinations.

Jesus Christ Superstar, Åbo Svenska Teater, 2014

For me, a huge experience and as perfect a musical production as they're going to get.

Photos: Turun kaupunginteatteri, Lahden kaupunginteatteri, Ari Ijäs. As always, hover over the pictures for specific info.
P.S. If you haven't written a list already, please do, and feel free to leave a link in the comments! These lists are really interesting to read. Fellow Finns, take a look at Katri's blog for a list of bloggers who've taken up this challenge.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Jukebox Day

Please note: Turun kaupunginteatteri invited me to see the premiere of Seili for free. 

It was a wild musical day yesterday.

First, I saw Svenska Teatern's new production of one of the most successful musicals of all time, Mamma Mia! Then I got to see the premiere of Turun kaupunginteatteri's Seili. The brand-new jukebox musical tells a story about the treatment of mental patients in historical Finland, set to music by Finnish contemporary female artists.

I'm sure you can see how this was a bit of a wild mix for one day...

On the surface, Svenska Teatern's Mamma Mia! is everything I don't like in musicals. It's a jukebox musical. The story is overly happy, romantic goo. But that is nothing compared to the worst thing – for the first time in Finland, it's a replica production of a West End original! Ugh. So long, originality.

But but but.

It's a jukebox musical with my favourite band's (yes. Sue me) songs. The plot with the wedding and the three possible dads... It's fun, I guess? And that is nothing compared to the most important thing – it's a replica of the first musical I ever saw and loved.

How could I be very critical towards the very thing that started an interest that now shapes my whole life? I can't lie. It was so much fun sitting in front row centre yesterday, listening to ABBA being blasted at approximately 150 dB at me for two hours. Just like when I was 14 years old and the world tour visited Finland. Though back then, I sat a bit further back.

However. I still don't quite understand why Svenska Teatern had to stage a replica. Couldn't a production with a new look and new direction have been just as enjoyable? I'm sure the audience is there first and foremost for the fun and for the ABBA songs, not for the original London sets and costumes. (It's not that non-replicas of Mamma Mia! aren't allowed at all. One has just premiered in Budapest.)

Svenskan's MM! flows perfectly. Of course. The director Paul Garrington has directed the show a dozen times all around the globe. The new Helsinki production is the product of an entertainment machine that specialises in creating perfect nights at the theatre. Just like every other production of Mamma Mia!, the one in Svenska Teatern is top-class entertainment. There is not a weak link in sight, every moment is enjoyable.

I had a great time.

But wouldn't it have been even more fun to see what a new Finnish creative team could have done with the material?

Seili, then, took me to the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.

Seili is a real island near the Finnish city of Turku. It was first used as a leper hospital, then as a place of confinement for mentally ill people. The musical takes place about a hundred years ago, when all the patients on the island were women. It was not unheard of that people got sent away to Seili for reasons that wouldn't count as mental illness today. In the musical, the main character Sofia kills a man in self-defense and ends up on the island. And for most of the people who were sent to Seili, there was no way out.

If Mamma Mia! felt almost too familiar, Seili was a new experience. The only familiar thing was the jukebox soundtrack.

Mamma Mia!'s silly plot works well when told via ABBA songs. There, the characters don't need to be all that deep, the lyrics don't have to be written especially for them. But Seili... To be honest, I can't help wishing the creative team would have written brand-new songs for their brand-new musical. The jukebox mixer works well enough, but lyrics written especially for a musical are always able to go deeper. When it comes to a dark story like this, I think even deeper would have been even better.

Seili is already heavy as it is, though. Uncomfortably so, but not in a bad way. It'd be alarming if a story with that premise wouldn't be. It leaves you feeling uneasy, makes you think. I think it's great Turun kaupunginteatteri decided to highlight this uncomfortable yet interesting bit of Finnish history.

The plot of Seili revolves around a love story, but for me, that didn't feel like the most important aspect of the story. Instead, the show screamed about how unfair life can be. One moment of darkness and the rest of your life is ruined. No second chances.

Mamma Mia! this ain't.

I'm still feeling an emotional overload from yesterday. It was a wild trip.

It's incredible, actually, that musicals are thought of as one single genre of theatre. The two shows I saw yesterday have nothing in common beyond the use of songs to tell the story. Mamma Mia! is easy to watch, the epitome of a stereotypical light musical. The action flows forward, you don't have to think, you just watch and listen and enjoy yourself. Seili, then – for a couple of times, I wished some scene would be over already, simply because what was happening onstage was so terrifying. The show is not there to entertain.

The first show I saw yesterday left me humming songs I know and love. The second one made me think about the fates of the real historical women who were shut away on the island. In their own, very different ways, both shows are worth watching.

Though maybe not during one day... If you absolutely have to see two shows during the same day, try to make sure they're at least both happy or both tragic, that's my advice to you!

Mamma Mia! photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg. Seili photo by Otto-Ville Väätäinen.
Blogiyleisön suomalainen osasto, käykääpä lukemassa myös Hesarin Suna Vuoren Seili-arvostelu. Pitkälti samoilla linjoilla liikutaan.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Old Razzle Dazzle

Lahden kaupunginteatteri is one of those theatres that are really important to me. It's where I first fell in love with Finnish musical theatre. The year was 2008, the show was Cats, my age was 16 years old – it was love at first sight. I've Lahden kaupunginteatteri a lot to thank for.

Too bad that since 2008, the theatre hasn't really produced any musicals to my liking.

I was bored by their Oliver!. I disliked their Cabaret. I borderline detested their Hair. Last spring, I got so little out of their West Side Story that I couldn't even find words to review it with.

But now, the tide has finally turned. Lahden kaupunginteatteri's production of Chicago is a brilliant take of the musical.

The production has double cast in the two leading roles. I caught Laura Huhtamaa as Roxie and Elsa Saisio as Velma (and am looking forward to seeing Hanna Vahtikari and Maiju Saarinen some day soon). What a fantastic duo! Both are full of charisma and shine brightly in their roles. And when combined with Mikko Pörhölä's perfectly arrogant, charismatic Billy Flynn... They make a delicious combo.

Also, thumbs up for Tapani Kalliomäki as the MC. The Broadway version of Chicago doesn't have an MC, but I have to admit I have grown very fond of narrator/master of ceremonies type of characters over the years. So, it's actually nice seeing one installed here. It took me a while to warm up to the character, but by the end, I enjoyed Kalliomäki's gleeful performance.

For once, the theatre's huge stage isn't too big. The cast is actually rather small, but the stage doesn't feel empty at any point. The orchestra (sounding great!) has a place onstage like in the Broadway version. Unlike that version, though, in this one there are plenty of sets and the scenery is in motion nearly all the time. I like the look of the show as a whole – sets by Minna Välimäki, lights by Jouni Nykopp, costumes by Jaana Kurttila. Nothing too unique, maybe, but still a nice shiny, glittery look.

Overall, Miika Muranen's direction has a great flow. As said, I didn't get much out of his West Side Story. But here, the show has good energy and the action moves from one scene to the next really smoothly. Chicago, with its story of rivalrous murderesses fighting for their fifteen minutes of fame, is not be the deepest or the most thought-provoking musical out there. But when done well... Oh boy, is it entertaining. This production is so much fun.

My biggest snag with the production is that Mary Sunshine is portrayed by a lady, Ilona Pukkila. Not that Pukkila is bad in the role – but has the part ever been portrayed by a man in Finland? Is there simply no one around with a suitable voice..? Having a woman in the role destroys the character's punchline, and her song isn't too impressive if it isn't sung by a dude with a killer falsetto. Eagerly looking forward to seeing the current Stockholm production where Chris Killik wears the high heels!

Also, hopefully I'll one day see a non-replica version of Chicago with The Hot Honey Rag as an actual dance number. Here, the song is played during the very energetic curtain call. That's fun, but The Hot Honey Rag dance is maybe my favourite thing in the Broadway staging. So it'd be nice to see it in other versions too!

Still, these are minor flaws. Watching some other production, I might be more annoyed at these, but here the rest of the show is so good that I can quickly forget some slight disagreements. I decided to see the show again during the intermission already, and bought my next ticket right after the show ended. Kind of like chain smoking, but better for your health.

In short, if you can, go see this one. And if you can't, here's the production's teaser trailer, which I hope gives you at least a little idea of how the show is like:

Photos by Sami Heiskanen.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

On Being a Fan

Yesterday, I saw a play about a tail-less cat called Pekka Töpöhäntä. In Sweden, where he's from, he's called Pelle Svanslös. In English, he's known as Peter-No-Tail. He is often teased because of his eponymous lack of tail, but in the end, he always prevails over the bullies and shows us that kindness is the right way to go.

No, I'm not having a theatre burnout manifesting itself in a confused way. This isn't a nostalgia trip either – I didn't even like Pekka Töpöhäntä as a kid.

Instead, I have a favourite actor.

This guy here.

The path that eventually lead to me watching a show about the adventures of a tail-less cat begun when I first saw Jekyll & Hyde in Turun kaupunginteatteri. I can't remember the exact moment when I thought that hmm, here's someone who I want to see in everything they'll do from now on. But seeing how I gave Severi Saarinen a thumbs-up for is portrayal of John Utterson in my J&H review, I suspect it was theatrical love at first sight.

Jekyll & Hyde is a story about a man who literally rips his soul in half, and I find his lawyer friend the most fascinating character of the show? Yep. Partially, I suppose whoever's responsible for the changes in the script is to thank for: the Turku production had a revised script that gave Utterson plenty more lines than any of the other versions I've seen bootlegs of. Usually, the character's there just to give Jekyll someone to talk to. But here, he actually had a personality of his own, even in the script.

But it was of course the performance that made me fall in love with the character. Utterson felt so three-dimensional, so real, and so did his relationship with Jekyll. By the end of the show, my heart broke for all the characters, but especially for Utterson. I ended up seeing Jekyll & Hyde seven times, and while I loved the show as a whole and adored all the actors, I paid one particular performance extra attention each time.

After Jekyll & Hyde, I've indeed seen Saarinen in everything he's done. It's been a mixed bag of productions, with a couple of shows I definitely would not have seen otherwise. Wanting to see a favourite actor is as good reason as any to broaden my theatrical horizons, I guess! And still, no matter if it's a play for adults or a cat musical for kids, his performances have always been a joy to watch.

Another blogger said it beautifully. I quote:
do you ever get theatre crushes where you don’t necessarily fancy the person but you just fall in love with their performances and their singing and their stage presence and character interpretation and you could go on about how amazing they are for hours and hours and you know you’re gushing but you don’t care because they’re just so amazing at what they do

Glad there's a grand total of two photos available of Saarinen in J&H.

Despite all the theatre I see, it is not all that often I encounter someone whose acting lights up the stage for me like this. There are countless actors I really enjoy watching, people whose talents I truely admire – and then a few who touch my soul. It cannot be explained with reason, and it's such a personal opinion that I don't really even mind if others don't quite get my feelings. But I can feel the magic every time I sit in the darkened auditorium watching their performances.

And that is why I ended up watching a play about a tail-less cat showing others that bullying is not the right thing to do.

Photos by Kari Sunnari and Robert Seger.
Suomalaiset lukijat voivat vilkaista täältä, mitä mieltä olin Pekka Töpöhännästä.

Pekka Töpöhäntä seikkailee

Dear international readers: this is a Finnish-only review about a children's show. I wrote a related post in English, maybe go check that out!
Huom. näin näytelmän ensi-illan ilmaiseksi lehdistölipulla.

Tampereen Työväen Teatterin Pekka Töpöhäntä -esityksen toisessa näytöksessä tapahtuu kauhistuttava rikos.

Monni, joka on tähän mennessä toki kiusannut Pekkaa mutta ollut loppujen lopuksi melko harmiton pahis – tietokilpailussa huijaamista ja ilkeitä letkautuksia – päättää Pekan nukkuessa livauttaa tämän säkkiin ja heittää tämän laivaan. Laiva lähtee kiertämään maailman meriä, eikä Pekka enää palaa.

Monni käy tuumasta toimeen apuriensa Pillin ja Pullan kanssa ja onnistuu demonisessa juonessaan tuosta vain. Pekka heitetään laivaan, laiva lähtee, Maija Maitoparta jää yksin rannalle suremaan.

Järkytyin. Kai joku passittaa Monnin lukemaan tiilenpäitä tästä hyvästä? No eipä passita! Sen sijaan Pekkaa odotellaan palaavaksi kokonainen vuosi – ja hän saapuu takaisin iloisena, reippaana ja kaiken anteeksi antaneena. Seuraavaksi hän menee osallistumaan Monnin järjestämään juoksukilpailuun.

En tiedä, sopiiko tämä näytelmä lapsille.

Kun sanoin äsken "järkytyin", oikeasti tarkoitin "puhkesin
nauruun kolmesti teatterissa ja neljästi näytelmän päätyttyä".
Vakuutan, että olen silti henkisesti tasapainoinen yksilö.

Näytelmän kuvaaman maailman sosiaalinen ja yhteiskunnallinen järjestys on iloisen sekaisin. Kansa on äärimmäisen helposti johdateltavissa. Monnin tarvitsee vain heittää populistinen iskulause ("hännättömät maalaiset vievät meiltä silakat ja tyttökissat"), ja yhtäkkiä kaikki kaupungin kissat haluavat häätää Töpöhännän keskuudestaan.

Monni on tietenkin ilkeä ja väärässä, mutta Pekka on protagonistina raivostuttava. Hän ei opi mitään menneistä tapahtumista vaan menee mukaan Monnin metkuihin kerran toisensa jälkeen. Mistä tarinan päähenkilön pohjaton optimismi ja luottamus kumpuaa?

Hyvyys palkitaan lopussa: töpöhäntäinen sankarimme pokaa itselleen kauniin vaimon ja perheeseen syntyy lastenvaunun täydeltä suloisia kissalapsia. Mutta palkitaanko paha, saako Monni lopulta ansionsa mukaan? Ei tietenkään. Sadistisen laivajuonen toteutettuaan kriminaalikissa palaa pikkurikollisuuden pariin. Kun hän lopussa tekee hetkellisen parannuksen ja pelastaa Pekan lapset palavasta talosta, antaa kiusattu kiusaajalleen anteeksi ja entiset riidat sovitaan miehekkäällä halauksella. Mutta onko tämä kestävä ratkaisu? Onko Monnikaan oikeasti oppinut mitään?


Vakavoidutaanpa nyt hetkeksi.

Näkisin, että TTT:n Pekka Töpöhäntä on sangen mukiinmenevää lastenteatteria. Siiri 21 v. ainakin viihtyi, ja hän epäilee, että Siiri 8 v. olisi ollut näkemästään suorastaan innoissaan. Teknojumputukseksi päivitetty musiikki soi komeasti, puvuissa ja valoissa riittää väriä ja näköä, hahmot ovat hauskoja. Lähdeteosten ikä paistaa hieman läpi (tyttökissat esimerkiksi jäävät enimmäkseen tyttöystävän rooliin), mutta kiusaamisen vastainen viesti on tietenkin tärkeä.

Ja jos joku nyt on hiljalleen alkanut pohtia, että mitä Siiri 21 v. tekee Pekka Töpöhännän katsomossa... Kirjoitin fanina olemisen olemuksesta hieman laajemmin täällä, mutta selvennettäköön nyt tässäkin lyhyesti – olen saavuttanut faniudessani sen pisteen, jossa Severi Saarinen voi esittää olkoon sitten vaikka hännätöntä kissaa. Katsomaan on mentävä.

Ilahduttava teatteri-ilta kaikin puolin.

Kuvat: Kari Sunnari
P.S. Kohdeyleisöön taisi ainakin upota. Eturivissä istui nimittäin pieni poika, joka tuuletti villisti, kun Pekka voitti juoksukilpailun. Jos itsekin osaisi eläytyä näkemäänsä noin voimakkaasti!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Five Years

Please note: Åbo Svenska Teater invited me to see a preview of this production for free.

Åbo Svenska Teater's The Last 5 Years (directed by Markus Virta, starring Alexander Lycke and Anna-Maria Hallgarn) sounds and looks beautiful. But, as I suspected, it is not a musical for my tastes.

The Last 5 Years tells the story of a relationship, plain and simple. That's where my interest plummets. I like my books rather realistic, but when it comes to my stage musicals, I prefer larger-than-life stories. The story of a broken marriage is simply not for me.

Lycke and Hallgarn both sing their parts really beautifully, as I knew they would. The show was certainly worth seeing for them. But the characters themselves... Meh. The character of Jamie grates on me especially. Maybe it's the point that he's something of a selfish jerk, but in a musical with only two characters, I would've preferred that both are likeable. As it was, I felt much more strongly for Cathy. (Bonus points that Lycke gets to sing upbeat songs and smile in this one, though. After Jean Valjean and Jesus, that's a true novelty.)

What's more, I don't think Jason Robert Brown's music is really for me, either. There are catchy parts and songs I like, but as a whole, it's not a score that'll climb high on my list of favourites. I can't really explain why. There's just something that doesn't excite me about it.

All in all, the show didn't much move me. I didn't feel bored, but I didn't get swept into the story either. I enjoyed listening to the singers, but more in a sense one enjoys a concert than a piece of theatre. I'm not saying it's a bad show. It's just a combination of many things I don't enjoy personally.

There's something I've been thinking about a while, and this show got me thinking about it again. So, now, a little digression.

I wonder if the events of The Last 5 Years could have been moved from the USA to Finland?

When Wasa Teater did Next to Normal, they turned the Goodmans into Sundqvists and replaced references to eloping to Portland to something a little more Nordic. The story literally hit closer to home when the characters were turned into Finns. Mamma Mia! does a similar thing: even the English-speaking productions have different dialogue depending on the country, and the upcoming Finnish version will rename some characters and give the Swedish translation a new Fennoswedish spin.

Might the same treatment work with The Last 5 Years? Could Jamie write a Finlandia prize winner or Cathy get an acting gig in Lapland? I don't really see why they should always remain American in foreign productions. Some shows are so rooted in a certain culture that you can't change them, even if the country is not mentioned out loud (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying with its college football fight song pops to mind), but a relationship tale like this has nothing to do with nationality.

When it comes to this production, though, I admit it might get a bit complicated. The actors are both Swedish, though the show is being performed in Finland. Turning them Fennoswedish could feel awkward. And of course, the point of the story remains the same despite the nationalities, even if you don't know where Ohio is. But in general, when it comes to stories like this – I guess it'd be even easier to relate to the characters if they were from the same country as the audience. I'd like to see more shows take the Wasa Teater Next to Normal route of translating.

What do you think? If you know of any musical translations that have changed the characters' nationalities, let me know about them in the comments!

I suppose seeing The Last 5 Years got me thinking, even if it didn't really move me... It was definitely interesting to see this musical. I've heard so much good about it, and though I didn't fall in love, I now know what people are talking about when they praise it. Maybe I'll even see the movie when it premieres. I'm curious to find out how a show like this translates to film.

In a nutshell, if you like this musical or down-to-earth relationship stories in general, I suspect you'll like this production too. It's not for me. But maybe it could be for you?

Photos by Pette Rissanen.
P.S. If someone ever wants to do another smaller-scale show with Lycke and Hallgarn somewhere, might I suggest Next to Normal? They'd be beyond amazing as Dan and Diana.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Santa Evita

Please note: Tampereen Työväen Teatteri invited me to see the premiere of this production for free.

A while ago, I listed Tampereen Työväen Teatteri's Evita as the musical I'm most eagerly looking forward to this fall.

It was worth the wait.

If you're not familiar with the musical, maybe take
a quick trip to Wikipedia and then come back.
I'm going to write this one from the perspective of an avid fan.

The new Finnish production has two alternating casts in four of the leading roles. I saw the show twice during the premiere week but only caught one combination: Maija Rissanen as Eva, Jari Ahola as Che, Ilkka Koivula as Perón, Lari Halme as Magaldi and Emmi Kaislakari, who has no alternate, as the Mistress.

Rissanen makes a lovely Eva. She is very human. Her Eva seems to believe she's working for the better, even if she likes indulging in pretty dresses and jewels while doing so. She has that almost scary ambitious and determined streak, sure, as witnessed during her speech after Don't Cry for Me, Argentina. But by the end, it's upsetting watching her dream of the vice-presidency – wondering if she's convincing herself any more than Perón or the audience.

Rissanen sings mostly beautifully but sounds a bit strained on the highest notes. On the other hand, so do many Evas, even on the cast recordings I've listened to. I suppose Andrew Lloyd Webber didn't really stop to consider the limits of the human voice while composing away.

I like how the relationship in between Perón and Eva works here. It maybe starts as something of a calculated, sensible match – but later, Perón seems truely devastated by Eva's decline, in a restrained way. Maybe he's thinking about how his wife's death will reflect on his popularity, but I've a hard time believing there's not some sorrow in the mix too.

Then there's Che, my favourite character. I didn't have to be disappointed one bit. First of all, Ahola sounds perfect in the part. I could listen to him the whole night, and seeing how this production gives Che some extra lines (for example, half of Lament), I'm pretty much getting my wish. Ahola's acting is to my tastes too, sarcastic and full of life. Bonus points to the production for taking the everyman Che route. I've always felt that adding Che Guevara to the historical mix is a bit too confusing.

This production gives Che and Eva a lot of time together. They dance together during Buenos Aires already, and Che is present in the action most of the time. There are lots of nice small moments in between the two. I like, for example, the bit just before And the Money Kept Rolling In: Che mentions that the poor are still sad and miserable, and in an I'm-already-ahead-of-you-my-friend type of a gesture, Eva brings the foundation in. The two have so much interaction that The Waltz for Eva and Che – in many versions, the only time the characters directly interact – almost feels underwhelming.

I look forward to seeing the other set of alternates: Laura Alajääski as Eva, Juha-Matti Koskela as Che, Mika Honkanen as Perón and Vesa Kietäväinen as Magaldi. I hear their interpretations are quite different from the cast I saw. Wonder how different the show will feel like when I eventually see them?

TTT's Evita looks very good. The sets, by Teppo Järvinen, are rather simple and have a two-dimensional look, but in a good way. Sometimes, few simple elements are all that is needed to fill a big stage. And Marjaana Mutanen's costumes! Eva really shines like a diamond. Her Don't Cry for Me Argentina costume is one of the most beautiful I've seen.

The music has some awkward gaps in between the songs and the orchestrations are rather synthetic (apparently they're using backing tracks in addition to the band) and not too imaginative. They do get the job done, though, the music sounds good. Maybe I just would've wished to hear an orchestration that doesn't sound like the cast recordings I've already heard.

As a whole, Tiina Puumalainen's direction rolls along smoothly. There however are some bits and pieces that I don't quite understand. For example: why does Che break down crying next to Eva's coffin during the Requiem, though the next moment he's sassing her and practically dancing on her grave? The very beginning and the very end don't click together as neatly as they wish they would, and some moments along the way don't really connect to the whole. But these are mostly just annoying details. When thinking about the big picture, they're easily forgotten.

A nice thing about Evita the musical is that it can make people curious about history – and it depicts the life of its titular character with a surprising amount of accuracy. Leaving the theatre, I overheard people wondering if some event from the musical really happened in Eva Peròn's life... Thumbs up to TTT for an informative souvenir programme with a timeline of the real Evita's life!

Beforehand, I was a little worried.

I've seen Evita a couple of times, and usually, the productions have been disappointments. I'm glad to see how well the story moves along in this version. The new Finnish production doesn't offer any mind-blowing new ideas (such as the ending of the recent Danish production – I've since found out that's how the original script ends, but it was surprising nevertheless, seeing how few productions do it), but it tells the story of Eva Perón in a solid, interesting, even touching way.

I've booked my next ticket already. Tampereen Työväen Teatteri's Evita is maybe not going to be an A list favourite for me, but it's definitely something I enjoy and something I'll want to return to.

Photos by Teppo Järvinen.
TTT:n Evitasta suomeksi mm. One Night in Theatre & Kulttuurikarppaaja.