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! 


  1. A lot of the time if there's a musical I'm curious about that I can't see, I'll read the book instead. Several years ago, I read Wicked. I still don't know how the musical came about from that book. Blah. Actually, because of your enthusiasm for Mr. Wildhorn, I recently read The Scarlet Pimpernel, which was very fun, if mostly predictable. I might've read Les Mis eventually, but the musical definitely pushed me into it, and I know I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much if not for the musical. And Evita... the day after I saw that, I was browsing through Wikipedia articles about her. I even tried to read a biography that I found at the library, but I had to stop a third of the way through because I just wasn't getting into it.

    Funny you should mention Dracula. I've just started it. Because I saw the play last week and got curious about the book. Ha.

    1. I agree about Wicked. I first read the book when I got into the musical, and tried to reread it later, but it's not a book for my tastes at all - it's so very different from the show. For once, I'm quite glad the adaptation didn't follow the source material more closely...

      Heh, you read The Scarlet Pimpernel because of my enthusiasm..? :D That's funny since I haven't managed to read it myself yet! Maybe I should check it out too.

      Dracula play, sweet! Perfect for Halloween.