Monday, January 27, 2014

Or Was That Just PR?

Last week, I saw an open rehearsal of Åbo Svenska Teater's upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

It was exciting.

I count JCS as one of my top five musicals, though I've never seen it performed in a theatre. I first saw the 1973 movie some years ago. I wasn't exactly thrilled, but the music stuck with me. I later bought some cast recordings, saw a fantastic concert version of the musical, ended up in love with it. And still, I've never really seen it live. While the concert was amazing, it of course wasn't the same experience as a traditional production with sets and full-blown acting would be.

I'm not a huge video bootleg person. I do think that, as long as the recorder keeps their business discreet and doesn't distract the performers or the rest of the audience, there's no harm in bootlegs. I doubt watching them has ever encouraged anyone to see less live theatre. But personally, if I encounter an interesting musical, I don't rush to find any videos. I rather live with the more or less futile hope that I'll see it live one day. I know I could watch all manner of Jesus Christ Superstars if I wanted to. But somehow, I prefer going to theatre to see something I have never seen before. That's something you can only experience once per musical, after all. So whenever possible, I'd rather that first experience to be a live one.

Since I don't really know how JCS would be like onstage, I've been coming up with some ideas while listening to the music. Even during that little sneak peek I got to see last week, it was so interesting comparing what was happening onstage to what I had imagined it would be like. Some bits made me go "wow, that's exactly how I'd like to see it!" – but I was going "wow, that's even better than anything I had imagined!" more often. We only saw two scenes, but even so, it was so much fun seeing the music I know by heart being illustrated.

And, to make it even better, the cast seems like something of a dream team. Alexander Lycke as Jesus? Anna-Maria Hallgarn as Mary Magdalene? Yes! I've seen the both perform before – Jean Valjean in ÅST's Les Misérables and Diana in Wasa Teater's Next to Normal, respectively – and am quite a fan. So to say I've been happy we're getting them back to Finland is an understatement. (But I won't go into my real feelings too much in this text. It's too embarrassing to admit it out loud how you've been rolling on the floor overcome with happiness. Oops.) I'm curious about Chris Killik as Judas. While I've never seen him perform before, some song clips I stumbled across have assured me that, at least voice-wise, this will be good. Waltteri Torikka as Pontius Pilate was also good news. What a voice!

So I'm practically counting hours to the premiere already. Of course, as always when being really excited about something beforehand, the chances that I'll be disappointed are high... But before proven otherwise, I'm going to imagine this'll be a perfect production.

For all I know now, it very well may be.

To end on a sour note, however... Last March, I wrote a post about being annoyed with the way Åbo Svenska Teater was giving out information about JSC. It would be nice if I could now write a sequel to that post titled "But Wait, Everything Went Okay After That".

I'm afraid that's not the case.

Back in April, I asked the theatre if the full JCS cast would be released soon. They answered that it "wouldn't take a long time anymore". Back then, they also mentioned in their Facebook that they're hoping to get the cast announced before Easter. Needless to say, apart from Alexander Lycke as the lead, the two other main roles were announced in September and the supporting cast in December. Though "announced" is a strong word. More like "were slipped into an obscure part of the theatre website and I found them by accident". The ensemble is still a mystery.

I understand it that, just like organizing any project with lots of people, casting a musical can be difficult. You think everything'll be in order by the next week and then someone decides they're not doing this after all. But I still think this whole thing has been handled badly.

While it's no matter of life and death, for a passionate fan, it's annoying when information doesn't travel from the theatre to the public. It'd be nice not to give us fans any false just-wait-until-Easter-and-then-we'll-tell hope unless the theatre is +110% certain they really can release the cast in the close future. And when the right people to play the roles have finally been found, how about some fanfare and Facebook posts instead of just hiding them into the "For Press" part of the theatre site?

Apparently I'm not the only one who's been annoyed at ÅST (link is Finnish only). For a theatre celebrating it's 175th anniversary... I think the best birthday celebration would be to get the information to flow a bit more smoothly. Here's to hoping the promo photos for Jesus Christ Superstar, the ones that were taken in December, will actually be seen before the premiere! (Edited to add: Wouldn't you know, they were. There's hope!)


  1. The answer is, of course, obvious. You need to go work for the theater and manage their PR.

    1. I'll add this comment into my job application as a letter of recommendation. ;)