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.


  1. I wanted to see this but I probably won't be able to go to Turku or see the visitor act in Espoo, shame. I almost got to see the smaller production last spring, but the shows in Helsinki got cancelled.. So maybe it's destiny telling me not to see this?

    Anyway, can't come up with any musicals with changed nationalities but in Carnage (Lilla Teatern) they did change the couples into Finnish-Swedish ones which worked really well.

    1. Aw, that's unlucky... But at least the movie's coming up, maybe that version then!

      Also, nice to hear that! I like the idea of adapting shows like that, whether musicals or straight plays.

    2. It's an interesting point you bring up. I've not seen anything that's changed characters nationalities, but I have noticed an effect that locale has on how the audience receives a play. I saw The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in Las Vegas once, and I was usually the only one laughing at the jokes... because I'm from Texas and I understood their context. When I saw the show in Texas, though, the whole audience was laughing!

      And I remember a production of Spamalot I saw here maybe a year ago. One of the characters is struck with an arrow and falls on his back. Our theater has a ceiling to mimic the sky with thousands of fiber-optic stars. And the guy started talking about the stars, ad libbing a bit, and then started singing Deep in the Heart of Texas. It's a well-known song around here that starts, "The stars at night are big and bright.... deep in the heart of Texas." It's sort of an unwritten rule that if someone's singing the song, you have to clap out a rhythm at the appropriate time, and of course, everyone in the audience did.

      Like this:

      It's not something that you could really pull off outside of the state, but the guy knew his audience... ha. So I think sometimes it is fun to add in a little something that's specific to your location; it can draw the audience in.

    3. I didn't really think about that while writing this, but yes - it makes sense that some shows are received better in some locations than others. Interesting to think how the response can vary that strongly even inside the same country. Though of course, when talking about a country the size of the USA, it's a bit different than small Finland with its five million inhabitants!

      That Spamalot story is pretty fantastic. Must have been lots of fun to be a part of that audience! :D