Monday, February 23, 2015

Finnish Musicals: Surprising Successes

The Life and Times of Musical Theatre in Finland, part 4/4. Read this part in Finnish here.

Oftentimes, a success is a surprise. The musicals near and dear to Finnish theatre fans’ hearts aren’t always staged on the biggest stages in Helsinki. And sometimes, people even travel to Finland just to see a musical!

“At first, people were frightened. You can’t show transvestites here, we’ll be tarred and feathered and sent to the nearest train station”, director Olli-Matti Oinonen reminisces. He directed the first Finnish production of Rocky Horror Show.

“But soon, everyone realized we had a treasure of a musical in our hands.”

The queen of all cult musicals, Rocky Horror Show, first seduced Finnish audiences in Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri in the spring of 1995. Seinäjoki is a middle-sized Finnish town on the western side of the country, in the middle of what’s sometimes called the Finnish Bible belt.

Rocky Horror Show was indeed seen as a risk for the town’s theatre. It turned out taking the risk was worth it.

“The audience loved the show. I didn’t hear a single negative word. The reaction showed there’s an accepting atmosphere in the region”, Oinonen says.

Rocky Horror Show has been raising audiences’ eyebrows ever since premiering in London in 1973. The science fiction musical features a bunch of aliens from the distant planet of Transsexual and a goodie-two-shoes earthling couple that stumbles across the aliens’ castle on a dark and stormy night. The aliens’ wild ways soon cause tension in between the young couple.

The show isn’t best known for its story, but for the way the audience takes part in the action. When watching Rocky Horror Show, you’re allowed to yell comment at the actors, throw toilet paper onstage, blow a whistle, wear a funny hat...

In Seinäjoki, the audience was encouraged to take part in the fun by a special theatrical cheerleading squad.

“The squad was the motor that kept the show running. The script has its flimsy parts. With the squad yelling commentary, the show stayed alive and interactive”, Oinonen describes.

”The best part was how the squad evolved during the run of the show. They adlibbed new comments that were sometimes written down and brought back during subsequent performances.”

Rocky Horror Show's Seinäjoki cast recording is nowadays a collectible.

Sold-out Performances and Recordings

Rocky Horror Show was a hit with the audiences. After theatre critic Jukka Kajava praised the show in Finland’s biggest newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, multiple performances sold out in no time.

The production even got its own cast recording.

Rocky Horror Show’s songs have been recorded dozens of times all around the world. But in Finland, recording a foreign musical is really uncommon. Today, the Seinäjoki Rocky Horror CD is a rare collector’s item.

“Ten years ago, a New York based magazine called the CD one of the best Rocky Horror recordings ever”, Oinonen mentions.

Finland’s first Rocky Horror Show ran for two and a half years. It would’ve sold even more tickets if the run could have been continued on weekends only, but the repertoire theatre’s other plays had to be fitted in the performance schedule too. Rocky had to give way to other shows.

After the Seinäjoki production, Rocky Horror has also been performed in Turku, in Finland’s both official languages. Åbo Svenska Teater produced the world’s first Swedish-speaking production of the cult classic in 2002, and the Finnish-speaking Turun kaupunginteatteri brought the show back in 2013. Fans saw the show again, but both Turku productions closed faster than the Seinäjoki original.

“We were foolhardy and had a really good team spirit with the whole cast and crew”, Oinonen muses over the Seinäjoki success.

A scene from the latest Finnish Rocky Horror Show,
Turun kaupunginteatteri's 2013 production. Photo: Otto-Ville Väätäinen.

The Fearless Vampire Killers

Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri has been the stage for many Finnish premieres of well-known international musicals, such as Aspects of Love and Titanic.

The latest musical imported to Seinäjoki was Tanz der Vampire, one of the most popular European musicals. The Finnish production used the German script but borrowed its name, Dance of the Vampires, from the flopped Broadway production. Fans soon translated the title to Finnish and called the show Vampyyrien tanssi.

Vampyyrien tanssi premiered in Seinäjoki in the autumn of 2011. The musical was again directed by Olli-Matti Oinonen.

“Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri was looking for a rock musical. I had already suggested Tanz der Vampire for a couple of Finnish theatres, but they had only laughed at the idea and claimed that no one’ll want to see a musical like that. I felt that Seinäjoki would be the right town for this show. Tanz served as a sort of a sequel for Rocky, after all. In Rocky we travelled to Transsexual, in Tanz to Transylvania.”

Tanz der Vampire is based on Roman Polanski’s movie The Fearless Vampire Killers. The story parodies vampire films. A vampire count seduces a country girl, and a vampire hunter professor and his lovestruck assistant try to save her.

The story is told through Jim Steinman’s music. Some of the tunes are familiar from Meat Loaf’s and Bonnie Tyler’s albums.

Tanz der Vampire is a big hit in Central Europe, for example in Germany and Hungary. Most of the Central European productions are replicas of the original Austrian version. The Seinäjoki production, however, was an all-new version.

“Even though I say it myself, ours was the best”, Oinonen laughs.

“It had the best cast and crew I have ever worked with. The team spirit was incredible, and we overcame all obstacles together.”

Vampire count (Jyri Lahtinen) leads the lovely Sarah (Raili Raitala)
to the dance floor. Photo: Ari Ijäs.

A Ticket to Seinäjoki

News about Vampyyrien tanssi quickly reached the fans of the musical. During the musicals’ time in the theatre’s repertoire, Seinäjoki saw visitors from all over Finland and even farther away.

Kim Holte traveled to Finland from northern Norway. Micha Salet flew from Amsterdam. Holte saw the Finnish vampires dance twice, while Salet first saw the show two times and later returned for the last two performances.

“When I first heard about the production, I was skeptical about how it would turn out. I didn't plan on going. But after seeing promotional videos, reading great reviews and slowly realising that Finland wasn't that far away, it just happened”, Holte tells.

In Central Europe, Tanz der Vampire is performed in big theatres, and the runs continue for years. Even so, the smaller Finnish version was to international fans’ tastes.

“There were a few directional choices I really liked that I wish they would implement in the other productions. There's an obvious difference in budget for the Finnish show and most of the other versions, but it didn’t make the Finnish show worse, just different”, Salet says.

“The directing stays much the same in other European productions. It's not very imaginative or interesting to watch actors from four different productions do the exact same movements onstage. So Tanssi was new and exciting. I still regret not booking a third show”, Holte adds.

Before Vampyyrien tanssi’s last performances, people queued for return tickets. Despite the success and the sold-out seats, the musical only ran from September to March. Regardless of the short run, the musical still brings fans and vampires together. Cast members have performed the musical’s songs in concerts, and the fans still meet each other every Halloween.

“It says something that I come back every year to meet up with my friends and reminisce about the show”, Salet says.

“We meet up with the musical’s cast every summer. I believe that’ll continue for years to come”, director Oinonen tells in turn.

Vampire hunter Alfred (Ville Salonen) gets a scary hug from
viscount Herbert (Jouko Enkelnotko). Photo: Ari Ijäs.

Emigrants in Helsinki

The men of ABBA, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, are the composer and lyricist behind Sweden’s most popular musical Kristina från Duvemåla.

The musical premiered in Malmö, southern Sweden, in 1995. The production ran for years, and it was seen by over a million Swedes – almost one eight of Sweden’s whole population at the time.

Finland is the first foreign country to bring a fully staged production of the Swedish hit onstage. Kristina opened Svenska Teatern’s newly renovated building in early 2012. Swedes were quick to travel to Helsinki to see their favourite musical again.

“Out of the hundred thousand audience members, about a fourth were Swedish”, theatre manager Johan Storgård tells.

“Another fourth were Finnish-speaking Finns who had never visited the Swedish-speaking Svenska Teatern before.”

Kristina från Duvemåla is a big musical epic. One performance lasts for three and a half hours. The original cast recording is split on three CDs and features 39 songs. Based on Vilhelm Moberg’s four-part novel series The Emigrants, it tells story about a group of Swedes who immigrate to the US in the middle of the 19th century.

During each three-hour performance, the musical features both moments of joy and plenty of sorrow and death.

Outside the Nordic countries, Kristina’s story hasn’t become a hit. There have been Kristina concerts in both New York and London, but no onstage productions.

“In the UK and the US, theatre producers are worried that the musical is a little bit dark. It’s a love story in between Kristina and her husband, but it has a really tragic ending. The audience cries for two and a half hours out of the three-and-a-half hour performance”, theatre manager Storgård describes.

“A story like that suits the Nordic state of mind better than for example Central European or British mentalities.”

One of the musical's rare happy moments.
Photo: Cata Portin.

Return Ticket to Duvemåla

Despite its sorrowful story, Kristina från Duvemåla has fans all over the world. Thanks to composer Andersson and lyricist Ulvaeus’s fame, countless ABBA fans are familiar with the musical.

Svenska Teatern’s production was in the news all over Europe. The theatre prepared for international visitors by subtitling the show in English.

“There were lots of Germans in the audience, and we even had visitors from Australia, America, Japan...” Storgård lists.

At the very moment, ABBA draws audiences to Svenska Teatern again. This time, Mamma Mia!, the jukebox musical featuring ABBA’s biggest hits, is playing in the theatre.

Unlike Kristina, Mamma Mia! is a hit all over the globe. Svenska Teatern’s version has also been received with enthusiasm. Tickets for autumn 2015 were sold a year in advance.

Kristina, then, has returned home.

“Last autumn, Kristina från Duvemåla premiered in Gothenburg. The new Swedish production stars all four leads from Svenska Teatern’s version and also features the same sets. We have worked together with GöteborgsOperan to return the musical to Sweden”, Storgård says.

Finnish actresses Birthe Wingren and Maria Ylipää star in Kristina's
new Swedish production. Photo: Mats Backer.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Internship Diaries, part 1: Premieres

Please note: I've been asked to blog about my experiences by the personnel of Turun kaupunginteatteri.

In my Theatrical Bucket List, I listed working in a theatre (during a musical production) as one of my ten theatrical life goals.

I'm living in that world now. For three months this spring, I'm interning in Turun kaupunginteatteri.

Here's how I feel about that.

I haven't crossed the life goal off my list yet. I wrote I want to be employed, and that implies getting paid, so this internship does not yet count. But it's a good place to start. Even if I'm not quite there yet, I'm getting closer.

As an intern, I get to observe the everyday life of a repertoire theatre. How the plays are marketed, how the PR works, how the tickets get sold – sneak peeks at how new shows are born, even! I get to see what goes on in a theatre office, and even better, I get to help. For a theatre lover like me, every day spent like that is fascinating.

Some might thing being a theatre fan who doesn't want to perform is a weird mix, but I've found an internship that perfectly suits my interests.

What do I do, then? During my first five weeks, plenty of things – everything from calling and e-mailing potential customers to selling last-minute discount tickets, from editing text to livetweeting a discussion about online bullying.

No two days have been the same.

My favourite task is updating the theatre's Twitter and Instagram accounts. I'm a bit of a social media enthusiast. Or hooked on it, if you want to put it in more honest words. So it's rather handy that if I feel lazy and want to take a break from work to check Instagram, cheking it is a part of my job, too...

Seriously though, it's interesting trying to figure out what kind of content interests people in social media and what doesn't. I could spend ages going through Twitter Analytics for the theatre's tweets. Social media is still such a new thing, no one knows for certain what works and what is going to trend. It's nice having a chance to observe and test its workings a bit.

Intern selfie! Selling actual theatre tickets at an actual
theatre box office. For me, that's reason enough to smile.

Then there is the glamorous part – premieres! During the first five weeks of my internship, the theatre has premiered two new productions, plays called Meganin tarina and Mörköjen yö.

My theatrical tastes in a simplified nutshell are as follows:

1) If it features a favourite actor and is within my reach, I will see it, no matter the genre and subject matter.
 2) If it's a musical and within a three-hours-by-train range (or especially interesting and in a neighbouring country), I will see it. I will like it best if it's an epic story filled with tears and death. If it's a comedy, let the humor be dark and clever.
3) If it's a straight play, I don't think I'm going, unless it's a comedy and playing nearby... or features a favourite actor, of course.

A heavy play about a teenager committing suicide and a musical romp for 5-year-olds about conquering your fears are shows I certainly wouldn't have seen if I interned somewhere else.

When I go to theatre, I want to enter a world that's different from the one we live in. I enjoy tragic stories if they're grand and unrealistic enough to feel like fairytales. But watching a young actor play a character based on a real girl who took her own life after being bullied online... A chilling experience. Here's the real girl's story if you're curious to find out more, but be warned, it's a really upsetting read.

I'm glad I got to see Megan's story onstage. Words can wound, and it's good to be reminded of that. Not a play that is fun to watch, but maybe one that's important to see.

The play about fighting your fears for 5-year-olds, then... I think I only saw one play for children when I was an actual child. Even though I've sat through a couple of children's plays as an adult, I've never seen anything aimed for such young kids. What's more, I'm a happily single 21-year-old, I don't have siblings, I don't even know any children. So, really not a play for me!

In any case, the kids laughed and seemed to have a good time. I guess when it comes to the focus group, the play works as intended. Maybe for someone, it even might start a lifelong interest in theatre?

A little girl sitting near me in the premiere audience was especially perspective when a monster appeared onstage. She exclaimed the following:

"There is only a human inside the monster."

Well put. I hope you'll become my theatre blogger buddy some day, little girl!

The monster is actually pretty endearing
– whether a human is hiding underneath or not.

All in all, the first five weeks of my internship have been super interesting. You know how sometimes a dream comes true but you notice it's not anything like you anticipated? This hasn't been like that. Based on what little experience I have now, I could definitely stay longer than what little time I have left.

So, here's to hoping my remaining seven weeks will be equally exciting – and that some day in some theatre, there will be plenty of weeks more in store for me.

Aiheeseen liittyviä linkkejä: lue lisää Meganin tarinasta ja Mörköjen yöstä. Turun kaupunginteatteri Twitterissä ja Instagramissa. Meganin tarina -livetwiittauskooste.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Script

In my post about the upcoming Finnish production of A Little Night Music, I mentioned it's my second-most anticipated musical production of autumn 2015.

Now we come to number one.

I call Jekyll & Hyde my favourite musical. It however cannot be compared to my other favourite musical Les Misérables.

I like Les Mis until proven otherwise.

A production of Les Mis has to screw up the casting or the direction quite aggressively to prevent me from enjoying it. The story and the music are always brilliant. Strong portrayals of Jean Valjean and Javert are a must for me, but apart from weak leads, hardly anything can stop me from having a good time.

When it comes to Jekyll & Hyde, my default setting is not liking it.

A production of Jekyll & Hyde has to shine especially bright in its casting, its direction, and/or its visuals to make me really enjoy it. The source material is painfully uneven. The script has its exciting parts, right next to an endless list of plotholes. It also exists in many different variations, some better, some worse. Even the music is hit-and-miss.

All in all, only Turun kaupunginteatteri's production has ever made this show truely enjoyable for me. And how!

With misery and violence. Just the way I like it.

As I've mentioned before, Turun kaupunginteatteri's Jekyll & Hyde featured the most gorgeous sets, lights and costumes I've ever seen in any musical. Every major character was played by an actor I like. The music sounded grand and beautiful. And how about the special effects, smoke and blood and explosions!

The production also featured a script I liked.

Frank Wildhorn's musicals are known for their endlessly revised scripts. No two productions of any of his shows are the same. For Jekyll & Hyde, it seems Wildhorn's written twice the amount of songs needed. The overflow has resulted in a dozen different versions of the musical.

To my knowledge, the script edition used in Turun kaupunginteatteri's production was brand new, revised by the production's creative team. It featured lines I haven't heard in any other productions and gave certain characters (especially Utterson) more focus. I loved every single change they made.

Tampering with Les Mis like that would be disastrous. But when the source material is as confused as Jekyll & Hyde's, little revising can do wonders.

After the original Finnish Jekyll & Hyde ceased to be, I watched a whole lot of videos from foreign productions. I liked one because it had a favourite actor as the lead, aaand... that's it. Some were okay. But had I first encountered any other production than Turun kaupunginteatteri's, I don't think I would've given the show a second chance.

International productions of Jekyll & Hyde have a history of horrible directional choices, ugly visuals and misguided efforts at stunt casting. I also dislike many productions for featuring a particularily weak version of the always changing script.

And why is it that when they made an official DVD,
it had to be like this?

All that said, maybe you can understand why thinking about Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri's upcoming production of Jekyll & Hyde makes me worried.

The musical will premiere in September. The cast (Joni Leponiemi and Henri Halkola alternating in the titular roles, Maria Lund and the lovely Saara Jokiaho as the ladies), based on the little I know of them, seems good. Set design by Marjatta Kuivasto, who designed the Finnish production of Tanz der Vampire, is especially exciting. I know nothing of the director Anssi Valtonen, so I shall remain positive.

But Kari Arffman's new translation? I'm sure the lyrics can be translated more cleverly than they were the last time – but since, when it comes to this show, they can be lyrics to any of the approximately two hundred songs written for different versions... Which ones are we going to get?

A new translation also means losing the the lines I so enjoyed unique to the first Finnish translation (by director Tuomas Parkkinen, Jussi Vahvaselkä and Kristina Vahvaselkä). Oh no! I wanted to hear that dialogue again! No matter what the new translation will bring to the table, there are many lines I'm going to miss from the first one.

It's weird. I'll be buying a ticket to a show I know well, yet I won't really know what is going to happen onstage.

Will everything be on fire again?

Some fans of Jekyll & Hyde would surely disagree with my thoughts about the ultimate script. Turun kaupunginteatteri's take touched me the most, yet someone else might think it left out the best songs. But maybe this time. In Jyväskylä, will we hear a Finnish rendition of The Girls of the Night? Or His Work and Nothing More? Maybe The World Has Gone Insane, even?

Who knows. I'm eager to find out.

Let's hope that, no matter which script they'll use, the new Finnish production will be the ultimate Jekyll & Hyde for at least someone.

Jyväskylä Jekyll logo borrowed from the theatre's Instagram account. Turku Jekyll photos by Robert Seger.
More on Jekyll & Hyde: my review of Turun kaupunginteatteri's production, why Jekyll & Hyde is important to me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Finnish Musicals: Broadway for Finns

The Life and Times of Musical Theatre in Finland, part 3/4. Read this part in Finnish here.

Certain musicals are especially loved by younger theatregoers. Many generations of Finnish teenagers and young adults have enjoyed Broadway shows. In this part of the series, we’ll take a look at how Finnish audiences of both past and present have received hit musicals such as Hair, Rent and Wicked.

Adults don’t sing or dance on the west side of Manhattan. Or in Tampere, Finland, either.

West Side Story, the classic musical about gang wars and young love, premiered on Broadway in 1957. The groundbreaking musical showed fighting as dancing. The world West Side Story’s young characters live in is a dark one, but the musical also portrays adults’ society as distant and unfair.

The Romeo and Juliet remake arrived to Finland rather rapidly. West Side Story’s Nordic premiere took place in Tampereen Teatteri in 1963.

The production was a success and ran for three seasons. Both the audience and the critics fell in love, in Finland and elsewhere – when the production visited Vienna, the local audience applauded it for 18 minutes. In Finland, West Side Story was also quickly produced in many other theatres, including The Finnish National Opera.

“Yeah, it’s worth watching”, one of the teenagers who saw the musical in The National Opera commented (Helsingin Sanomat, 19.11.1965).

A couple of years after West Side Story, Tampere was again the Finnish capital for musicals aimed at young adults. Only two years after its 1967 Broadway premiere, in the summer of 1969, the hippie musical Hair was featured in Tampere Theatre Festival’s repertoire.

West Side Story is one of Finland's most popular Broadway musicals.
Here's how the show looked like in Lahden kaupunginteatteri in 2013.
Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Long, Beautiful Hair

Hair became a musical phenomenon.

The first theatre festival performances sold so well that more performances were scheduled and the ticket prices were raised. The production, featuring a cast of amateur actors, toured Finland for two years and also visited Sweden. The cast recording topped the charts.

Teen magazines wrote about Hair and tried to build a rivalry in between the touring production and a Swedish-speaking version that was staged in Helsinki’s Svenska Teatern at the same time. In real life, the two productions were on good terms.

The hippie musical formed bonds all over the globe, too. The Paris, San Fransisco, London and Australian productions of Hair all telegraphed their best wishes to the touring Finnish production’s premiere.

All feedback wasn’t quite as positive. The featured nudity and the musical’s general display of hippie lifestyle hurt some feelings along the way.

“What the theatre management was thinking, letting that porn theatre visit our city?” pen name “Appalled” wondered in the local newspaper Turun Sanomat when the Hair tour visited the city of Turku in late 1969.

“Please at least cancel the upcoming performances.”

The Tribe from Åbo Svenska Teater's 2012 production of Hair.
Photo: Robert Seger.

The Age of Aquarius, Continued

After the summer of ‘69, the hippie musical has had multiple new Finnish productions.

Nowadays, the show is associated with a fair amount of nostalgia. Turku, Finland’s medieval capital and nowadays the country’s 6th biggest city, was the European Capital of Culture in 2011. One of the year’s special events was a new production of Hair cast with middle-aged amateurs.

In 2012, Hair was produced professionally both in Turku’s Swedish-speaking Åbo Svenska Teater, and in Lahden kaupunginteatteri in southern Finland.

“The themes of Hair are still current”, director Maarit Pyökäri says. Pyökäri directed the show for Lahden kaupunginteatteri.

”Of course, some of the things have dated. Onstage nudity, for example, has lost its shock appeal. Other themes, however, are still as current as ever. The United States is still engaged in warfare on another continent, young people still use drugs...”

Pyökäri says that Hair isn’t an easy musical to stage. She describes the script that consists of a string of individual scenes instead of a traditional plot as chaotic, and mentions that translating the lyrics to Finnish also proved challenging. The musical’s music, then, was the reason to bring the show to Lahden kaupunginteatteri. The songs were performed on concert volume.

“Young people fell in love with the show, while their parents knew the songs by heart. The production reached all ages”, Pyökäri says.

The Lahti Tribe. Photo: Tarmo Valmela.

Arts and AIDS

Worldwide, Jonathan Larson’s Rent can be called one of the most important musicals of the 90s. After premiering in New York in 1994, international productions of the musical soon popped up all over the world, Finland included.

Adapted from Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohème, Rent shows a year in life of a group of young artists. The setting has been changed from Paris to New York, and the tuberculosis that threatened the artists’ lives in the original opera has been updated to HIV.

Audiences, especially people in their twenties and thirties, fell in love with the musical. It ran on Broadway for 12 years and was adapted for film.

“When I saw Rent in New York for the second time, I hardly found my way out of the auditorium. I was crying so hard”, director Marco Bjurström tells. Bjurström directed the musical in Helsinki.

In Finland, Rent was first seen in Tampereen Teatteri in 1998. The Finnish interest towards the musical was strong before the premiere: some of Finland’s biggest theatres, such as the national Swedish-speaking scene Svenska Teatern and Helsinki’s big musical stage Helsingin kaupunginteatteri, also wanted to stage the Finnish premiere.

Despite the initial interest, there were no productions of Rent in Finland for over a decade after the 1998 production. But in the 2010s, the musical has returned on Finnish stages. It hasn’t been produced in government-supported municipal theatres, but amateurs and professional have both been staging their own, independent productions.

The latest professional Finnish Rent was produced in Helsinki in 2012. Marco Bjurström directed the musical and produced the show without financial help from outside backers. The director says he dreamed of producing the musical for years.

“As a portrait of its own time, Rent left a lasting impression on me. It tells stories of the world we really lived in during the time musical takes place”, Bjurström describes.

A scene from the Helsinki production. Photo: Lasse Lindqvist.

Taking Risks

When Tampereen Teatteri staged Rent’s Finnish premiere in 1998, a musical featuring sexual minorities, drug abuse and AIDS was seen as both a financial and an artistic risk for the theatre. It ran for one season.

The Helsinki production was also a risk for its producer. The proceeds weren’t enough to make up for the original investment.

“I understood that Rent would probably never return to the government-supported big theatres’ repertoires. Some theatre managers still think it’s too wild. So, I thought I have to take the risk and do it myself, no matter what’ll happen. Otherwise I’ll never forgive myself for not doing it!” Bjurström explains his decision to produce the show.

Bjurström says the musical, set in early 90s New York, still touches people. The Helsinki production’s audience consisted of people of all ages, from school kids to senior citizens.

Rent tells a certain tale to those of us who have been young in the 80s and 90s. The story itself, however, has not dated in any way. It was fantastic to hear comments from the audience members. Whether they were pensioners or young students, the musical was a strong experience for all. Many got new hope, faith and power from watching it.”

A moment from Suomen Musiikkiteatteriensemble's 2011 production.
Photo: Suomen Musiikkiteatteriensemble ry.

A Journey to a Wonderful World

The fantasy musical Wicked premiered in Helsingin kaupunginteatteri in 2010, seven years after its Broadway premiere. The musical has plenty of young fans all over the world – also in Helsinki.

The story of Wicked is based on L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its classic movie adaptation. In Finland, the world of Oz isn’t nearly as well-known as in the USA.

Despite the relative obscurity of the source material, Helsingin kaupunginteatteri decided to stage the Wicked Witch of the West’s story. Theatre manager Asko Sarkola says that composer Stephen Schwartz was worried about Finns’ distant relationship with the original story.

“He often asked me if Finnish audiences know The Wizard of Oz. The musical after all features characters and plot points from the original story. I answered that not really, no, but the music is going to charm the audience in any case.”

Wicked is a story about being different, and about friendship. Riikka Kiviaho, the president of Wicked Fanclub Finland, says that knowing The Land of Oz gives Wicked’s world more depth. According to her, the show can nevertheless also be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of the story.

Wicked’s music is so impressive, you can really feel it resonating through your body. My mouth fell open during the first song already”, Sofia Sarkava says. Sarkava, a member of Wicked Fanclub Finland, saw the show five times.

The composer’s worries were indeed lessened with time.

“In the end, Schwartz was very happy with the way Helsingin kaupunginteatteri told the story of the different girl seeking for acceptance”, Sarkola says.

A scene from Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's Wicked.
Photo: Tapio Vanhatalo.

Fanclub Still Going Strong

The witches of Oz enchanted the Finnish audience. The musical was seen by over 65 000 people, and many saw the production more than once.

“I could relate with the musical’s themes and the relationships featured in the story. My situation in life was just right for Wicked”, Riikka Kiviaho describes the musical’s charm. She saw the production 16 times.

During the production’s run, Kiviaho founded a club for the musical’s fans. Helsingin kaupunginteatteri also joined the club activities. While the musical was in the theatre’s repertoire, the club and theatre joined forces to arrange cast meetups for the fans.

“The club turned into something special. The cast and the fans interacted with each other, and the feeling was good all around”, Kiviaho says.

Wicked’s Finnish run ended over three years ago, but the musical is still important to many fans. The members of the fan club still meet each other.

“I’m maybe the most impressed by how many people have found new friends via the fan club. I didn’t expect that when I founded the club. It still makes me teary-eyed”, Kiviaho summarises her feelings.

Witches and fans. Photo: Riikka Kiviaho.

Sources used: Mikko-Olavi Seppälä & Katri Tanskanen: Suomen teatteri ja draama, Reijo Paukku: Hippimusikaali HAIR ja Tampereen Popteatterin tarina, Taloussanomat 19.9.1998: Menestys tai tappio.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


I have three reasons to be excited about Tampereen Työväen Teatteri premiering Desirée – Pieni yösoitto or A Little Night Music next September.

1) I respect the theatre for going for this brilliant, yet in Finland rather unknown musical.
2) They have my favourite actor in a central role. That's a surefire way of making me excited about literally whatever you might have to offer.
3) Judging by what I saw in their promotional event this week, this show is going to be good.

Let's take a look.

A Little Night Music is a Stephen Sondheim musical based on Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night. It's a comedy (with its fair share of darker undertones) set in early 19th Sweden. The plot involves a handful of rich, idle people and their relationships.

It's rather simple, really. I drew this little chart to help explain how the characters are connected to one another:

I hope I didn't forget anyone.

That's about it. Send this combination of characters to a country mansion for a weekend to work out their problems, sit back and enjoy the show.

A Little Night Music has been produced in Finland only once before (in Turun kaupunginteatteri in 2011, back then called Kesäyön hymyilyä). I'm glad it's coming back.

Director Miika Muranen described the show as a fairytale for adults, taking place in a world where rich people mess around with each other. That might sound like your standard brainless musical fluff, but what in my opinion makes this show brilliant is how clever and touching it still manages to be. I've listened to A Little Night Music cast recordings countless times, but the lyrics and dialogue still make me laugh – and feel a bit emotional, too.

With half of the cast suffering from a midlife crisis, maybe this isn't the first show you'd expect a 21-year-old like me would enjoy... But even if that means I have the tastes of someone 20 years older than I am, I'm a fan.

I'm also a fan of Severi Saarinen, who will be playing Henrik Egerman (a young man studying to become a priest and hopelessly in love with his equally young stepmother), so that's a definite highlight in the cast for me. That's not to say the whole new Finnish cast doesn't seem good, though. Based on the snippets we saw in the promotional event, Veeti Kallio and Petra Karjalainen are going to have lovely chemistry as the leading couple Fredrik Egerman and Desirée Armfeldt.

Or what do you think:

All in all, I'm excited. Even though all Finnish theatres haven't yet revealed their upcoming repertoires, I have a feeling this just might be my second-most anticipated musical production of the whole Finnish musical season of autumn 2015.

We'll see.

Pienestä yösoitosta suomeksi: One Night in Theatre & Paljon Melua Teatterista.