Friday, March 28, 2014

King of the Jungle

Please note: I saw this production for free on the courtesy of Helsingin kaupunginteatteri.

There is a bit of a jungle musical boom going on in Helsinki. At the moment, two theatres are doing tropical shows: The Jungle Book is still playing at Svenska Teatern, and Helsingin kaupunginteatteri premiered Disney's Tarzan just last week.

Yesterday, I got to see the show as a part of a special blogger event at HKT.

When I think about the jungle, the first thing that comes to my mind is how beautiful it looks like. Tarzan didn't disappoint: the visuals were lovely to look at.

Before the performance, we bloggers got to visit the stage and take a look at the musical's sets (by Katariina Kirjavainen). It was incredible to see how the rather uninteresting-looking mass of shapes we saw beforehand was transformed, with the help of the lighting, into beautiful jungle scenery during the show! I was really impressed by William Iles's lights. I feel the cartoonish sets would probably look too fake from the very front row, but from a bit further back in the auditorium, the sets and the lights together created a nice illusion of a tropical forest.

The gorilla costumes by Elina Kolehmainen were also fun to look at. Actually, the gorillas in general were a lot of fun to look at: they did some really impressive dancing! Overall, this show was a treat to the eyes.

Tarzan's path to adulthood is all about big emotions, but for a reason or another, I didn't really feel for the love story in between Tarzan (Saska Pulkkinen) and Jane (Elina Aalto), nor the relationship in between Tarzan and his adoptive mother Kala (Sanna Majuri). There were emotional moments happening onstage, sure. But despite the sympathetic performances, I didn't feel close to the main characters.

Instead, my favourite character was Tarzan's gorilla friend (and adoptive brother/cousin/?) Terk. I was rather charmed by Matti Leino's performance. He made the character arrogant yet loyal and altogether a lot of fun. Also, I have to mention Kari Mattila as Clayton, the guide of the English jungle expedition group! He was a classic Disney villain: pure evil, greedy and blood-thirsty without a single redeeming trait and as such, maybe surprisingly, a joy to watch.

So far, so good... Unfortunately, one important part of the show didn't work out: this was one of those musicals where I honestly found myself wishing they wouldn't sing so much. The cast sung well, sure, but Phil Collins's tunes were awfully bland. There were a couple of highlights, but to my ears, most of the songs sounded the same. The ending of the second act with four reprises in a row... Yawn. The music had its moments: I enjoyed the bits with lots of percussion and exciting rythms (Trashin' the Camp, the song that began the second act, was a great number!). It's just a shame there were so many dull ballads in between those parts.

Tarzan at Helsingin kaupunginteatteri was fun (apart from the music), but for me, nothing more than that. It was nice to look at but didn't make me feel any deeper emotions. Remembering it is a Disney musical, however, I guess I got everything I was expecting to get a fun if not too memorable night at the theatre.

By the way: HKT offers subtitles to Tarzan in Finnish, English and Russian. If you're visiting Helsinki and craving some culture, but your Finnish isn't quite fluent yet, here's a show to consider!
Photos by Mirka Kleemola / Imagenary Oy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Two Months

I'll keep this short and simple.

Åbo Svenska Teater's production of Jesus Christ Superstar...
  1. is one of the top three best musicals I've ever seen
  2. is loved by critics and bloggers and audiences alike
  3. had sold over 10 000 tickets two weeks after the premiere already
  4. is closing in April, after a run of only two and a half months???
I would shrug the Facebook post off as a cheap advertising trick (let's make the audience think the show is closing so they'll panic and buy a lot of tickets!) if I hadn't also heard the news in person from two different members of the theatre's box office personnel. Since they're all saying the same... It's starting to sound way too real.

For the life of me, I cannot understand what has motivated the theatre to make a decision such as this.

A musical that has been flashily advertised since the summer of 2013, a musical that's been called the theatre's 175th anniversary production and the big investment of the anniversary year... This is a fine anniversary if I've ever heard of one. Party hard for a whopping 20% of the anniversary year!!

Åbo Svenska Teater is known for their musicals – and said musicals have previously had rather reasonable runs. Evita (170th anniversary musical) ran from fall 2008 to spring 2009. Les Misérables was first scheduled to run from fall 2010 to spring 2011 but was extended all the way to winter 2012. Even Hair, with an ensemble that mostly consisted of theatre students, ran for about five months in fall 2012 and spring 2013. How does a run of two and a half months fit into this pattern? It doesn't.

What on earth went wrong? Was the budget completely messed up in the first place? Did some internal trouble within the theatre get ridiculously out of hand? I have no idea – but to be honest, it doesn't matter to me what the reason is, I'm still mad. From an audience member's perspective, this makes zero sense and seems both embarrassing and infuriating. You'd think that whatever the case, having a musical production running would beat not having a musical in the repertoire. Little do I understand, apparently.

I'm deeply upset. As said, ÅST's JCS is one of the best musicals I've ever seen. Of course I would've wanted to enjoy it for the full year! As anyone who reads my blog knows, I'm not one to see musicals only once. I would've wanted to see it again and again, watch the production develop and grow. Moreover, I'm also annoyed and upset for my friends' sake. Ever since the theatre started dropping hints that the production is closing, I've heard lots of fellow theatre fans lament they haven't the time to see the production in the spring. Silly us, counting on the show continuing in the fall!

I hope, with all my energy, that this turns out to be something of a bad joke and a fall season will still be announced – but that doesn't seem like a particularily realistic wish. At the moment, it looks like the theatre management has made up their minds to shut down one of the best musicals this country has ever seen.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Here's something I've been wondering about for a while. A few months ago, I read an article that claimed critics' opinion doesn't really affect people's decisions to see certain pieces of theatre. A little discouraging for all professional and amateur critics, I guess... Seeing my blog is full of theatre reviews, that got me thinking: is that true in my case, too?

First of all, I figured I'm more likely to be influenced by positive than negative reviews.

Let's say there's a new musical I'm really not interested in. I'm sure it's going to be bad, there's no way I'm seeing that! But if someone whose opinion I trust, someone who I usually agree with, goes to see the show and writes a positive review... It's not unheard of that I'll revise my opinion. For example, I had decided I wouldn't go see West Side Story in Lahden kaupunginteatteri – I've been disappointed by their musicals too many times in a row now, so no more, please! But then a really enthusiastic review by a fellow blogger changed my mind. What if I'll miss the chance to see something good after all? I have now booked my ticket, so we'll find out in two weeks.

Though I read theatre reviews from newspapers, I don't really have any so-called professional critic whose opinion I count on. Instead, it's my fellow musical bloggers whose thoughts I'm more interested in. It feels many Finnish critics don't even know what they're talking about when they talk about musicals (my favourite instance was when a critic who writes for Finland's biggest newspaper was offended that Jekyll & Hyde is not a child-friendly show) – so I tend to find blogger opinions way more reliable.

But if I read a negative review, be it in a newspaper or in a blog... If it's about a show I already have little interest in, it's of course not going to change things. I wouldn't have seen it anyway. But if it's about a show I'm curious about, I rarely drop my plans of going to see it just because others say it's not worth it. What if the whole lot is wrong? Sure, usually they're not, and I end up disliking the show too. But I still want to take the chance. Even if the show really turns out horrible, I'll at least get the chance to diss it myself...

Overall though, I usually read theatre reviews to compare my own opinions to others', not to decide if I want to see something or not. Reading what others feel about a show often expands my own views and gets me thinking about different aspects of the show. The actual performance might be over, but I think reading differing opinions and maybe discussing the show afterwards is half the fun. So, yes, I suppose I'm one of the people the article I read was talking about – I don't often decide which shows I'm going to see based on critique, even though I really like reading (and writing) reviews.

I'm curious about your opinions, so here's something to maybe discuss in the comment section: do reviews affect your decisions to see certain pieces of theatre, or do you also rather follow your own judgement when it comes to picking your shows?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

How Can I Resist You?

I love the musical Mamma Mia!

I've expressed my dislike of the jukebox genre in this blog before, but this is my one big expection. The original jukebox show. My first musical. I love ABBA, and what's more, I really enjoy Mamma Mia!'s story. It's silly, sure, but in a way that makes me smile. And I like how it's so strongly about the female characters. Overall, it's great fun. I've been excited ever since they announced the musical will be staged here in Finland, in Svenska Teatern.

The cast posing for the press in Friday's info event.

I love the source material, and the cast that was just released seems rather promising. So, it's going to be a great show, right?


Svenska Teatern is staging a replica of the original production of Mamma Mia!. They're duplicating the production that's been staged all over the world and has even visited Finland on tour before. The direction, the sets, the costumes... It'll be the thing that everybody who's seen the show in London or in New York has already seen. They'll be localizing the script to Swedish-speaking Finland with new names for a handful of characters and some revisions to the dialogue itself (nice!) but when it comes to the visuals, it'll be the same stuff every other production is made of.

Weirdly enough, this is not because the production company that holds the rights to the show doesn't allow any different productions of the show at all. The first non-replica version of Mamma Mia! ever is being produced in Hungary right now. So why on earth couldn't Finland be the home to world's second unique production?

Lineah Svärd, Katariina Lantto and Tara Toya
will play Sofie, Ali and Lisa.

I'm still glad I'll be seeing the show again. I've seen the world tour twice, I went both times it visited Helsinki. The first time in 2007 was the first time I ever saw a musical live! So I'm sure seeing the new Finnish production will be an fun nostalgia trip.

But even so, I find it disappointing they're doing a replica. Sure, musicals have been replicated in Finland before. Åbo Svenska Teater's Les Misérables was a replica of a previous German production, and in turn, the current Tampereen Teatteri Les Mis is a close copy of the ÅST production. Svenska Teatern's previous success, Kristina från Duvemåla, was also a partial replica of the original Swedish show. But when it comes to the biggest Broadway and West End productions, Finnish theatres don't tend to do copies. So, why to produce a replica in Mamma Mia!'s case? Is the original production really so perfect that there's no chance it could be improved in any way if given in the hands of a new Finnish creative team?

Of course, when you buy the rights for a world-famous success concept, you know what you're getting. You'll have the show millions of people have enjoyed before and the Finnish audience will likely enjoy too. But still... I think it's a shame they won't give the direction a new spin. Wouldn't the show be even more fun if it was something nobody in the audience has seen before?

What's more, Mamma Mia! is likely the most expensive musical Finland has ever seen. The seats that don't fall into the limited visibility categories range from 88 to 68 €. If you're a student, you'll enjoy the generous student prices: only 78 € for the best seats, like 90% of stalls, and 66 € for, for example, the very front row. If seeing is not a priority for you, you can book a "really limited visibility" seat for only 20 € but if you enjoy actually watching what's going on, too bad. Even C-seats with somewhat limited view cost 40 € for students and 45 € for adults. (See full pricing here and a seating plan here.)

The theatre has already sold over 60 000 tickets, so clearly, they can ask for as much as they'd like and people will still buy their tickets. I have bought mine already (B-seat, 66 €). But still, I think from 78 to 66 € for seats with undisturbed view is no student discount. Nor is 40 € for limited visibility. And I can't help wondering if the decision to copy the original direction has bloated the prices overall...

Donna and the Dynamos!
Mia Hafrén will play Donna, Anna Hultin and Maria Sid will
alternate as Rita (Rosie), and Veera Railio will play Tanja

All in all, it's nice that Mamma Mia! is coming to Helsinki. It's such a feel-good show, and I'm happy to get the chance to enjoy it live once more. I'm already certain I'll leave the theatre smiling and hum ABBA tunes for the following two weeks.

It's just a shame we're not getting new sets, costumes, or ideas as a part of the costly feel-good package.

Related: more about non-replica productions. Plus I saw another good jukebox musical, once [Finnish only].