Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How to Succeed

Please note: Helsingin kaupunginteatteri invited me to see this production for free. 

Despite my recent foray into the world of jukebox comedy (link is Finnish only), I've always been more into tragedies. All my favourite musicals are full of death: Les Misérables, Jekyll & Hyde, Kristina från Duvemåla... I like watching fun shows, like Hairspray and Legally Blonde, sure, but my real favourites are all tragic.

Except for that I had so much fun watching Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Miten menestyä vaivatta liike-elämässä) yesterday that I may have to reconsider. If I were to add a comedy to my list of favourites, it might very well be this one.

Partially, I've seen plenty of dark shows because that's what Finnish theatres have been producing lately. Helsingin kaupunginteatteri has had its share of shadows during the past few years: Rebecca, Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, Doctor Zhivago... Even Fiddler on the Roof has a dark ending. Light comedies from Broadway's golden age haven't been in fashion. But maybe the recent Broadway revival inspired the theatre to take this classic in their repertoire?

How to Succeed first opened in 1961, and it's also set in the 60s. It tells a story of a young window washer's climb to the top in a big company, with the help of a guidebook that shares its title with the show. The musical is a product of its time: the company where the events take place is firmly a men's world. The executives of World Wide Wicket Company – or Globaalit pakettinappulat, as the perfect yet impossible to translate Finnish name goes – are all men. Women work as secretaries, use their pay on expensive dresses, and dream of marrying a rich man.

The show is a bit old-fashioned overall (and also very clearly American), but not in an annoying way. It's actually rather cute. And, maybe surprisingly, most the jokes don't feel outdated. I'd like to believe the real world of business has evolved a bit since the 60s – but who knows, since it seems that our stereotypical view of it hasn't changed much in the last 50 years. A coffee machine breaking is still a catastrophe.

The production is sweet sweet candy for the eyes and ears. The sets by Jani Uljas make an enviroment as boring as an office look fun. Elina Kolehmainen's costumes are colourful and cute and fit the mood of the story perfectly. As does Frank Loesser's music. The tunes are light and catchy. The Finnish lyrics by Ilkka Talasranta flow well too, adding to the overall good feeling.

And then the best bit: the story of the musical is lots and lots of fun. Many laugh-out-loud jokes and a smile on my face all the way through. That's definitely something I don't usually expercience while watching musicals! The leading man Antti Lang is hilarious as J. Pierrepont Finch, succeeding in business without really trying in a really amusing way. You can't help wishing he'll make it all the way to the top. My long-time favourite Anna Victoria Eriksson is also lovely as his girlfriend Rosemary. Overall, the cast had a great energy – it was a joy watching them.

I didn't expect to enjoy this show this much. Turns out that it was a perfect piece of feel-good theatre for me. I went to the theatre feeling a bit tired and annoyed but wanted to dance on my way out.

My current count says I've seen Les Mis 28 times, so it'll take a while before times I've seen comedies outrank the times I've seen tragedies... But I think I'm going to start increasing the comedy count by seeing this again once or twice.

Photos by Charlotte Estman-Wennström.
Check out the production's trailer.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Musical Autumn of 2014

The new theatrical season is almost here! I'll start my musical autumn next week, so it's about time to take a look at the upcoming Finnish (and international) musicals.

I have to admit the Finnish ones don't really make me jump with joy.

Taking performance photos was, curiously, not allowed
in TTT's press info. So here's a logo instead.

Good things first: a musical I love is returning to Finland. Out of all the upcoming premieres, I'm the most excited about Tampereen Työväen Teatteri's Evita. It'll be the first time I see a professional Finnish production of one of my all-time favourites.

In TTT's season opening event on Thursday, they performed Buenos Aires. I could already spot a couple of details I loved and some choices that made me a bit wary. I'm sure the finished show will be interesting to watch. To be honest, I'm rather picky about Evita – I have many ideas about how the show should be done, and I doubt any production will ever be exactly as I imagine. But I can't wait to see how this cast and crew will interpret the musical.

Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's upcoming production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (or Miten menestyä vaivatta liike-elämässä, as the confusing title goes in Finnish) looks really cute and stars the amazing Anna Victoria Eriksson. I'm curious and happy to have the chance to see this, yet not overly enthusiastic. Comedy's simply not my favourite genre of musical theatre. No matter how fun the jokes, I still tend to prefer the shows with lots of misery and death!

Lahden kaupunginteatteri's upcoming Chicago also interests me. I have slightly complicated relationship with the theatre. The 2007–2008 Lahti production of Cats was my first Finnish musical love, but ever since, I've mostly felt disappointed by their musicals. But Chicago? At best, it's lots of dark fun, so I can't help hoping. Maybe the Cats magic will finally be back? Even if it isn't, though, it saddens me to know this might be the theatre's last big musical production. A must-see in any case.

Beyond that... My jukebox musical quota for the year is full already, and I'm not usually very into relationship stories (ones without murder and/or supernatural elements, that is), so that pretty much wipes out the rest of southern Finland's repertoire from my list of musicals to look forward to. Sure, I'm going to see more than what I've listed here. But I'm not really counting days to the premieres.

Pictured: my type of a musical.

So. What does a musical fan do if their own country doesn't have shows that interest them? I don't know about you, but for me, it's time for a little European tour. Here's my selection of shows outside the Finnish borders I'm going to see this autumn:

First, The Phantom of the Opera in Estonia. Non-replica productions of Phantom are few and far between, but this new one directed by Georg Malvius will be just a short boat trip away. It'll be very interesting to finally see the story of Phantom from another point of view instead of the original direction. And with new visuals by Ellen Cairns!

Then, a little trip to Pforzheim, Germany. That doesn't really sound like your standard destination for a vacation, but I'm nevertheless going to see the musical Dracula there this November.

I have two reasons. Firstly, ever since falling in love with Jekyll & Hyde, I've been watching a lot of Frank Wildhorn's work. Partially, my love is ironic (see: the part about The Scarlet Pimpernel in my Bucket List post), but even if I often watch Wildhorn shows for the silly parts, I still enjoy them. So it's going to be fun seeing Dracula live.

I'm taking the bingo cards with me.

The bigger reason, however, is that a newfound favourite actor is starring as the lead. I first encountered Chris Murray when I watched that hilarious bootleg of The Scarlet Pimpernel, but since, he has claimed a place on my list of favourite actors. I've never been much of a bootleg person, though. There are plenty of Murray videos online, and they're great, but if all it takes to see him perform live is a weekend trip to Germany... I can't wait to see him as the Count.

And finally, Chicago in Stockholms stadsteater. There's that production coming up in Finland, sure – but the Finnish one doesn't have Chris Killik cast as Mary Sunshine. I've mentioned it before that I and a friend are big fans, so I guess this is reason enough for us to do a little trip to Stockholm again.

It's going to be an exciting autumn after all.

Evita logo by Kari Sunnari.
Dracula photo from Theater Pforzheim's website.

Related: why I'm not that interested in Svenska Teatern's upcoming production of Mamma Mia!
Kurkkaa myös: Being Alive -blogin syksyinen musikaalikatsaus, teatraalista-blogin HKT:n kaudenavajaiskuvat.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Theatrical Bucket List

Manette from Music & My Mind challenged me to the Bucket List Tag. The task is to list ten things you want to do before you die, and then pass the challenge on to your fellow bloggers. Seeing this is a blog about theatre, I'm going to give this tag a theatrical spin.

Here are my top ten theatre-related dreams I want to achieve in this lifetime.

See a musical in each of the Nordic countries.

Finland, Sweden and Denmark done. Norway and Iceland to go.

Write the text for a musical programme.

I love theatre programmes. I buy one each time I see a show and enjoy leafing through my collection every now and then. Good, interesting articles and cast and crew introductions are of course always a part of a great programme – and I'd like to try my hand at writing some. I've already written the texts for a programme for Molière's Tartuffe, and doing the research for that was really interesting. But I'm sure writing about a musical would be even better!

Have my art appear in a theatre programme.

I love programmes so much they deserve two entries.

Turun kaupunginteatteri's recent production of Rocky Horror Show had comic panels in their programme. That's such a great idea! For an enthusiastic fanartist like me, it was so nice seeing the characters portrayed not only by the actors onstage, but also by a visual artist in the programme. One day, I want to be the artist sharing their vision in a programme.

Clearly, this is serious programme material.

Work in a theatre during a musical production.

Whether it's being a PR woman, a box office saleslady, the person who pours coffee during the intermission, or indeed any profession related to live theatre... One day, I want to be employed as one of the people who bring the thing I love the most in this world onstage for others to enjoy.

Learn (at least some basic) German.

I'm way too into German musicals for someone who hasn't ever studied a word of the language.

Learning languages isn't my strongest point. I'm good at English because I have the chance to keep it up and use it a lot. But other than that... I've studied Swedish and French, and really try to keep especially the former up, but I feel I'm forgetting more and more each day. So I'm a bit afraid of adding a new language into the mix! But I think a good bucket list always includes something that's really challenging yet rewarding. So, one day, it's German 101 for me.

Appear onstage in a real (indoor) theatre.

I love watching theatre so much – so it'd be an interesting and probably a rather scary experience to feel how it's like to stand onstage myself, with all the people looking at me.

Would I like to appear in a play? Not really. Even though my sixth grade performing arts teacher once told me I could be an actress when I grow up, I've never really wanted to pursue acting. Rather, I'd like to try my hand at hosting some sort of an event. Though, really, any sort of onstage appearance would be fine here!

(I've already gotten a taste of this by hosting an outdoor improvisation theatre contest this summer. It was great! But I'm sure the experience would be much bigger and more terrifying if it happened inside, with a real dark auditorium and all those bright lights shining in my eyes...)

This is my Serious Theatre Watching Face.
I'd probably cry if a whole audience of people looked at me like that.

See Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame onstage.

Hunchback is my number one favourite Disney movie, and I hear the original German production of the musical was fantastic. It's apparently soon premiering in the US, even. I've been wanting to see this one revived for years, and will continue obsessing over it until I'll actually get to see it for myself.

See (an awful production of) The Scarlet Pimpernel onstage.

Judging by this hilarious-from-start-to-finish full video, this musical is so horrendously awful it takes a U-turn and turns right into fantastic again. If I'll ever get to witness a production half as crazy as the one I linked, I shall be happy. For all the wrong reasons, of course. It shall be wonderful.

If you're not familiar with the musical... Watch this bit with a crazed French revolutionary in some fabulous boots climbing on tables, defacing the flag of the republic and pretending to be a bird of prey. Watch it, and try to tell me you didn't feel the slightest amount of true joy.

I love this awful musical so much I draw pictures
based on it. Please send help. Or more bootlegs.

Be involved in the direction of a musical. Somehow.

I have lots of ideas! One day, I want to at least whisper a couple of them in the ear of some understanding director and see them turn into real onstage action...

Wear a real Enjolras vest.

Like this needs any explanation.

This time, I challenge the following three bloggers to reveal their bucket lists (theatrical or otherwise): ensign_beedrill from rough tough, real stuff, Elina from teatraalista and Laura from One Night in Theatre!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Summer Theatre Summer: Conclusions

Summer greetings from Finland! I'm now finished with my Summer Theatre Tour. In my first entry, I promised I'd return to the subject in English and let you know what I learned during my summer of outdoor plays.

Let's go.

What on earth is this, and why is Batman involved?

It was only after a comment I got on my first summer theatre entry that I fully realised the idea of theatres closing down for the whole summer isn't familiar to everybody. Indeed, here in Finland, every theatre closes its doors for the summer months. Even if a theatre keeps producing plays during the summer, they'll take them outdoors.

There are a couple of reasons why it's like that.

Firstly, us Finns are big on summer holidays. The average Finn in permanent employment gets 30 days plus public holidays off each year, and according to the law, 24 of those 30 days have to be during the summer. So theatre staff takes a break during the summer like everybody else. (You can still see your favourite actors during the summer, though, since many of them work in outdoor theatres during the vacation.)

And then – the Finnish summer is fleeting, while the winter is long and very very dark. Even if the theatres cancelled their vacations and kept their doors open for the whole summer, I doubt anyone would see the indoor plays. We want to spend our time outside while we can. If you can combine that with theatre, it's even better. Outdoor shows are a tradition by now.

What kind of plays do the outdoor theatres perform, then?

We just don't know.

In a way, the Finnish summer theatre play is its own genre.

The most traditional summer shows are set in the countryside and have plenty of jokes about bare butts, drinking moonshine and getting laid. You couldn't stage stuff as lowbrow as this inside, but during the summer, it's what especially many older people seem to want.

Even the smarter summer plays are all comedies. July sunshine and tragedies simply do not match. When it comes to outdoor musicals, there are a couple of options – a jukebox show based on the music of some popular and nostalgic Finnish artist, or Fiddler on the Roof or The Full Monty. Nothing too serious or modern on that front either.

I had the honour of seeing one of those classic butts-and-booze shows. I didn't much enjoy myself. I hope that part of the genre will slowly phase itself out. None of my friends of my own age enjoy those plays, so maybe the new generation of audiences and artists will develop the summer genre to a bit more sophisticated direction... I'll keep my fingers crossed. It'd be horrifying to notice, in 30 years or so, that I'd suddenly have started enjoying that kind of humour!

It'd also be nice to see more non-jukebox musicals during the summer. However. I did see a lovely version of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change... But I'm afraid I have to confess my best theatrical experience of the summer 2014 was a jukebox mashup where the story of a popular Finnish duo of singing brothers met the story of Blues Brothers. Just the sort of stuff I couldn't stand if it was produced indoors during the winter.

I suspect that partially, summer theatre is about shutting down your critical brain and just enjoying the ride. For some, it's about laughing at butt jokes. For me, I guess it was about enjoying a silly jukebox show.

A favourite actor or two may have been involved. That always helps.

Not that I didn't watch anything smart during the summer months. I saw some really fun, clever comedies, too – and even some Shakespeare. I saw nine plays in total. All in all, almost 300 plays premiere in Finland each summer, both amateur and professional productions. 300! In a country of 5,4 million inhabitants, I'd say that's a lot. I really cannot call myself an expert based on my selection of nine. I barely scratched the surface.

But I can say this: I think it's amazing we have this much theatre in my home country during the summer. It's fantastic there are so many amateurs willing to share their talents, and so many professionals keeping us entertained during the summer. Sure, I wish the summer theatre repertoire in general would be a tad smarter. But still... We sure love theatre in this country, and I think that's fantastic.

Did I get rid of my prejudices concerning summer theatre, like I beforehand hoped I would? Only partially. But did I see some good shows, have fun with my friends, and in general have a good time? You bet!

See you on the Summer Theatre Tour of 2015.

Photos: Mikko Vihervaara, Heli Tiensuu, Robert Seger

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Kesäteatterikesä: Opittua

Vaihtoehtoinen otsikko: The Turku Brothers – otto 2

Kyllä, hyvät ihmiset. Niin se on. Olen vapautunut ennakkoluuloistani. Kesäteatterikiertueeni kattoi yhdeksän teatterikappaleen kuohkean viipaleen kesän satojen ensi-iltojen kakusta. Näistä yhdeksästä suurin suosikkini oli Matti ja Teppo -musikaali.

Tämä teos tässä.

Suomessa esitettiin ja esitetään tänä kesänä liki kolmesataa kesäteatteriesitystä. Tästä valtavasta määrästä yhdeksän (joista yksi oli vieläpä ruotsalainen tuotanto) on tietenkin vain surkea pintaraapaisu. Ensi kesänä voisinkin hyllyttää haaveet kesätyöstä ja hakea sen sijaan apurahaa kiertääkseni teattereita kolme kuukautta putkeen!

Tämänkesäinen kiertueeni oli nimittäin yllättävän positiivinen elämys. Lähdin matkaan huonoa kesäteatteria -ennakkoluuloilla, ja toki törmäsinkin muutamaan pettymykseen. Valtaosa näkemistäni teoksista oli kuitenkin mieleeni. Tietysti tähän vaikuttaa se, että käytin rajallisen aikani mieluummin edes potentiaalisesti kiinnostavien kuin täysin kammottavalta kuulostavien näytelmien katsomiseen. Olen silti yllättynyt kiertueen onnistumisprosentista.

Näin monta teosta, jotka voisivat pyöriä ihan yhtä hyvin neljän seinän sisällä. Muutamat näytelmät tuntuivat kuitenkin alleviivaavan kesäisiltä. Sekä Keski-Uudenmaan teatterin Ulvova mylläri, Emmateatterin Suomi – hulluu touhuu! että Samppalinnan kesäteatterin Matti ja Teppo – The Turku Brothers vahvistivat kesäteatteriennakkoluulojani. Pontikkapannu, paljasta pintaa, huonoa maakuntahuumoria, takaa-ajokohtaus ja reipasta iskelmää. Ulvova mylläri oli kaikesta näkemästäni ehkäpä ultimaattisin kesäteatterikokemus. Miten yksi näytelmä voikin kohdata kaikki ennakkoluulot niin täydellisesti?

Tänä kesänä olen nähnyt, että kesäteatteri voi olla älykästä (ja silti samaan aikaan hauskaa). Niinpä minun on vaikea uskoa, että kolmenkymmenen vuoden päästä Ulvovalle myllärille olisi vielä kysyntää. Tai oikeammin sanottuna en haluaisi uskoa sitä. Kukaan omanikäisistä tutuistani ole maaseutu-kännikohtaus-ja-kohellus-tyyppisen kesäteatterin fani. Niinpä olisi karmiva ajatus, että alkaisimme keski-ikäistyessämme yllättäen vaatia kesäteatteriltamme peppua ja pontikkaa. Robin-musikaali Matin ja Tepon malliin vuonna 2044 saattaisi tosin olla hauska.

Niin, mitä siihen kesän parhaaseen Mattiin ja Teppoon tulee... Kuten arvostelussani totesin, jos joku yrittäisi mitään tännepäinkään talvella, en antaisi teatterille ikinä anteeksi. Aivan älytöntä settiä. Ja silti! Aivot menivät ensiminuuteilta täysillä narikkaan ja unohtuivat sinne vielä toiseksi katselukerraksi. Näkökulma muuttui – kesällä ei ehkä tarvitsekaan olla vakava musikaaliekspertti, joka osaa perustella jukebox-musikaalien haitallisen vaikutuksen genrelle kolmella lauseella vaikka unissaan? Jos vain pitäisi hauskaa.

Ehkäpä jotkut ajattelevat puskafarsseista samalla tavalla. Kesällä saa luvan kanssa nauraa viina- ja naimavitseille, joille tulisi talvisissa teatterisaleissa mieluummin kohotella paheksuvia kulmakarvoja?

Matissa ja Tepossa tiivistyivät minulle tämän kesän parhaat teatteritunnelmat. Rakkaita ystäviä teatteriseurana, jäätelöä ennen esitystä ja herkkuja väliajalla, kourallinen suosikkinäyttelijöitä lavalla, Blues Brothers -biisejä pöljillä Turku-lyriikoilla (heikkouksiani: Blues Brothers, Turku), auringonpaistetta ja eräs niin mainio vitsi, että seuraava kaksiminuuttinen meni täysin ohi hysteeristä naurua pidätellessä.

Peukut siis pystyyn kaikille siellä Samppalinnan suunnassa – ja myös jokaiselle Suomen sadoista kesäteattereista. Ihanaa, että meillä on Suomen kesässä näin paljon teatteria nähtävänä!

Kuva: Robert Seger.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Kesäteatterikesä: Ella ja presidentti

Kesäteatterikiertue palasi alkuviikosta Turkuun – ja lapsuuteen. Olin (ja olen yhä) Timo Parvelan Ella-kirjojen suuri fani, joten miten olisin voinut jättää väliin Turun kesäteatterin Ella ja presidentti -näytelmän?


Ella ja presidentti turboahtaa puolentoista tunnin näytelmään parhaat palat noin kuudesta kirjasta. Juonen suuri kaari on lainattu kirjasta Ella ja Sampan urotyöt, mutta mukana on otteita ainakin 90-luvun puolella ilmestyneistä Ellasta teatterissa ja Ellasta yökoulussa sekä taatusti myös kirjasarjan uudemmista, minulle vieraista osista. Lyhyttä lastenkirjaa pitää varmasti näyttämöä varten laajentaa, mutta kohtaukset eivät oikein muodosta mielekästä kokonaisuutta. Jännite puuttuu.

Hahmot tuottivat vanhalle fanille osittain pettymyksen. Jukka Leistin opettajassa en nähnyt lapsuuteni lempikirjoista tuttua hermoromahduksen partaalla kiikkuvaa kuivan huumorin mestaria, eikä koulun muukaan henkilökunta vedonnut huumorintajuuni. Sen sijaan Antton Kainulaisen Pukari kohtasi mielikuvani, ja myös Tuula Väänänen Ellana ja Emmi Kaislakari Hannana toimivat. Pidin Jarkko Kallionpään presidentistäkin, vaikka näytelmässä valtionpäämiehen vierailuun valmistautuminen uhkasikin välillä unohtua muun sählingin alle.

Vaan mitäpä tällaisella täysi-ikäisyyden jo monta vuotta sitten saavuttaneella kävyllä on sanottavaa lastennäytelmästä? Ainakin se havainto, että viime kesän mainioon Risto Räppääjään verrattuna (tarkastakaa, kuka esitti Ristoa, ja ehkä ymmärrätte minun ja ystäväni motivaation) tämä lapsiyleisö ei nauranut yhtä iloisesti eikä keskittynyt lainkaan yhtä tarkkaavaisesti. Nappulaliiga oli läpi esityksen sangen levotonta. Toivottavasti kyse oli vain kollektiivisesta huonosta päivästä.

Näytelmän jälkeen suuntasin kirjahyllylleni ja lukaisin läpi muutaman Ellan. Kyse ei ole siitä, että aika olisi kullannut muistoni itse kirjoista – ne naurattivat yhä ääneen. Mielestäni Parvelan Ella Lapissa on täydellinen teos ja eräs kaikkien aikojen lempikirjoistani. Ehkä odotukseni näytelmän suhteen olivatkin liian korkealla tai yksinkertaisesti liian erilaiset ohjaajan visioon verrattuna. Tai ehkäpä mielikuvani hahmoista ovat liian syvälle kiveen hakattuja erilaisten tulkintojen sulattamiseksi?

Kesä ei ole vielä lopussa, mutta ensimmäiset syksyä ennakoivat näytäntökauden avajaiset alkavat uhkaavasti lähestyä... Niinpä kesäteatterikierros taitaa nyt olla viime silausta vailla valmis. Grande finalena katsotaan kesän suosikkiteos uudempaan kertaan ja kerrataan kiertueen opit.

Kuvat: Mikko Vihervaara

Friday, August 1, 2014

Kesäteatterikesä: Arvonnan onnellinen voittaja

Some Superfluous Opinionsin kesäisen lämpöinen arpajaishattu on puhunut.

Onnittelut Ipelle, ja terveiset Laitilaan Kaivolan kesäteatterille – Ipen paras kesäteatterikokemus oli nimittäin viimevuotinen Vain elämää -näytelmä. Ipelle lähtee kahden hengen lahjakortti Nurmijärven Kivi-juhlille. Toivotaan, että Aleksiksen elämäntarina vetoaa vähintään yhtä voimakkaasti kuin viimekesäinen teatterielämys!

Mitähän muuten olisin sanonut, jos olisin itse halunnut osallistua tällaiseen arvontaan? Kesäteatterikierros alkaa hiljalleen lähestyä maaliviivaansa, mutta ihan niin finaalissa se ei vielä ole. Palataan pian asian äärelle, mutta ensin ruoditaan eräs pienoinen pettymys...