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.