Monday, March 23, 2015

Straight Play Spring

You may have noticed I haven't written a single musical review this year so far.

That's because I haven't seen a single live musical in three months soon.

I think that's the longest time in the past three years I've gone without seeing one.

Pictured: an accurate description of my feelings regarding the fact.

I'm not trying to break a habit here... It's just that in Finland, it's not a very good season for musicals right now. Most big productions premiered in the autumn, and I saw them in the autumn, too. While I'd maybe like to see some again, there is nothing running at the moment I'm really enthusiastic about.

Musicals are my preferred genre, but if there are none available, I'm certainly not going to stop going to theatre altogether. Instead, it's time for straight plays.

I enjoy plays, but they don't elevate me above the ground quite in the same way musicals do. I know people who say they love straight plays but don't really get musicals, and think they should see musical theatre more often to properly understand it. I guess that works both ways – consider this spring my crash course in straight plays..?

I wrote about Tampereen Työväen Teatteri's new play Hevosten keinu already (Finnish only). In this post, I'm going to introduce you to four other plays I've seen this spring.

Meganin tarina & Kaikki on kohta hyvin

I briefly mentioned Turun kaupunginteatteri's production of Meganin tarina in a previous post. Megan's Story is a Finnish play by Tuomas Timonen based on the real story of Megan Meier. A teenaged girl is bullied online and pushed all the way to the breaking point by her anonymous tormentors. She sees no other way out than the most extreme one.

Kaikki on kohta hyvin (or Ömheten, as the original Swedish title goes) is a play by Jonas Gardell that ran in Tampereen Työväen Teatteri last autumn and this spring. Set in the 80s, it's a story about Rasmus and Benjamin, a young couple deeply in love with each other. It's just that Rasmus has AIDS and so their time together is running out.

I'm lumping these two together because I feel they're actually about the same thing.

Obviously, both are about death. From different perspectives, sure, but still about a young person dying before their time.

Both are also based on real-life events. Meganin tarina is strongly inspired by the real story of the Meiers family, right down to details. Kaikki on kohta hyvin, then, is a fictional story set during the real AIDS hysteria of 1980s. In interviews, playwright Gardell has stated it's based on his own experiences and people he knew who lost their battle with AIDS.

But most strikingly, both plays are about parents losing a child.

In Meganin tarina, the titular character dies before intermission. The second act is about Megan's parents trying to make sense of what happened, attempting to bring the bullies to justice, and breaking up in the process.

In Kaikki on kohta hyvin, the central conflict involves Rasmus's parents. Rasmus hasn't dared to tell them of his illness. The first act shows what happens when he finally does, and the second act shows what happens when Rasmus dies. It doesn't turn out too pretty – while the parents are hurting, they are also homophobic, and that makes for a volatile mix.

Since I'm interning in Turun kaupunginteatteri, I got the chance to watch Meganin tarina twice during the premiere week. I was terrified during the first time, but the second time didn't move me much anymore. While a 13-year-old committing suicide is always tragic beyond words, the shock value only worked once for me. But the first time was powerful, to the point of feeling actual physical pain.

Kaikki on kohta hyvin made me feel pretty awful both times (I saw it twice because, yes, Severi Saarinen played Benjamin). While Rasmus dying was sad, I found it especially horrifying to watch how his parents treated Benjamin after their son's death. They left the broken young man completely alone. It's awful how cruel people can be towards each other for the unfairest of reasons.

Both plays were chilling. They weren't completely humorless, but they obviously left me feeling pretty heavy. So, next, I wanted to see something a bit lighter...


Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus also features heavy themes. Envy, hatred and revenge, all served with a side of death. But, unlike the previous two plays, it's also funny – while it ends on a dark note, there are lighter scenes and humor sprinkled throughout the story.

A period drama set in the 18th century featuring beautiful costumes and wigs, it's also easier to think of Amadeus as just a story. While the play is based on the real lives of W. A. Mozart and Antionio Salieri, it's really a story about what could've happened, not about what actually did. The play has made the rivalry in between Salieri and Mozart famous, but many historians think the two were actually on good terms.

So, all in all, Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri's Amadeus served as a little escape from the real world after two rather realistic and upsetting plays.

It was nice going back to Seinäjoki. I visited the theatre often when their production of Tanz der Vampire was running. I've been looking for a reason to go back and feel nostalgic for a bit ever since, and since Amadeus is a play I've been wanting to see for a while, it was finally time to return.

Seinäjoki did not disappoint.

While I found the show a bit too long and my mind started wandering by the end of the second act, watching Salieri's downward spiral deeper into obsession, bitterness, and borderline insanity was mostly fascinating. Esa Ahonen did a great job in the leading role. You couldn't help feeling for Salieri, even when you watched him do his best to destroy Mozart's career. As a whole, I had a good time.

And the Seinäjoki nostalgia – ah! The town was just as gray and gloomy as I remembered, the streets just as empty and creepy when leaving the theatre after the performance.

I don't think the town is one of Finland's hidden jewels, quite the contrary... But in my mind, Seinäjoki is connected to so many great performances and fun experiences, I can't help feeling happy whenever I visit. And Amadeus is one more good performance I can add on the list!

Yöllisen koiran merkillinen tapaus
The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time)

I've seen The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time in London before. And, to be honest, I didn't much enjoy it.

Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident is one of my favourite books. It's a story of 15-year-old Christopher who sees the world a bit differently the than most of us. He's great at maths and remembering things, but has difficulties understanding people's expressions and feelings. When Christopher finds out his neighbour's dog has been stabbed with gardening fork, he decides to become a detective and solve the curious case – and embarks on an adventure of lifetime in the process.

My mind understood that the London production was fine, but my soul didn't feel much. I knew that the acting was good and the sets were impressive... But it was too different from how I imagined the book, and my soul wasn't able to forgive that. I guess many feel like that when watching adaptations of their favourite books. The novel has left such a big impression on me and my mental images of it are so strong that I figured I would never really appreciate any adaptation, no matter how good.

I'm happy to tell you I was wrong. In Tampereen Työväen Teatteri, my soul felt so much I could hardly stop crying.

I was especially impressed by the lead. Jyrki Mänttäri played Christopher to perfection and matched my mental image of the character just right. Though Mänttäri is 30 years older than his character, I didn't doubt for a second I was watching Christopher from the original novel. I'm still amazed.

The Curious Incident was such a moving experience that I haven't even dared to read any reviews yet. I want to see the play again (which I'm going to do this Friday) before letting others' thoughts influence my own.

All in all, it's been an intense ride. Plenty of heavy subjects.

A musical about death can be uplifting. Think about Les Misérables – while two thirds of the characters die and the rest suffer horribly, the second act still ends on the notion that they died for a better tomorrow. There is a bright future waiting just around the corner and we can all fight for it. Not to mention a cheerful medley of catchy showtunes to accompany the audience out.

Heavy plays, in my experience, cannot be used as escapes from one's real-life problems quite as easily. As The Curious Incident showed me, they can be cathartic experiences too – but for me, that doesn't happen as often as with musicals. A straight play can give me plenty to think about, but a good musical recharges my batteries like nothing else.

But in any case, interesting theatrical spring so far!

Photos: Turun kaupunginteatteri, Tampereen Työväen Teatteri, Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri. As always, hover over the images for more information.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Hyde and History

I've been a terrifyingly enthusiastic Jekyll & Hyde fan for a whole year soon. (I first saw the musical two years ago, but it took a year for my enthusiasm to take flight.)

Being terrifyingly enthusiastic about something for a year, you're bound to learn something about it.

I've learned that writing Jekyll & Hyde was a long process. All composer Frank Wildhorn's musicals have a history of concept recordings and revisions, but the development of Jekyll & Hyde is especially full of cuts and edits. I've mentioned that for Jekyll & Hyde, Wildhorn has written twice the amount of songs needed. It's not an exaggeration.

In this post, I'm going to share four things about the history of Jekyll & Hyde the musical I find especially interesting.

1) The Ballad of Jekyll & Hyde

Jekyll & Hyde the musical officially first premiered in Houston in 1990. Seven years later, a revised version was staged on Broadway. But even before the Houston premiere, the creative team – composer Wildhorn and lyricists Steve Cuden and Leslie Bricusse – had written and produced two concept albums of the show.

Only two of the songs featured on the original 1986 demo made it to the eventual Broadway production: Alive and Murder, Murder. Facade, the number that has 2–4 reprises in current productions of the musical, was curiously absent... But in its place, the demo CD begun with a song called The Ballad of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

Doctor Jekyll so good and kind
A gentleman always so refined
But lying in wait was another side
All that's evil personified


The 1986 concept album only featured ten songs, but next year, Wildhorn and Cuden produced another demo. On the 1987 album, The Ballad was used exactly like its obvious inspiration, Stephen Sondheim's The Ballad of Sweeney Todd. It opened the first act, was reprised after intense plot twists, and finally finished the show with lyrics that recapped the morale of the story.

The Ballad ends with the melody from Alive that defines Hyde in the current edition of the show. It's the same tune Hyde sings at the end of Jekyll and Hyde's duet Confrontation – a song that wasn't present on either the 86 or the 87 concept album!

In the current edition of the show, Facade has replaced The Ballad. Interestingly enough, the 87 demo featured both The Ballad and Facade.

2) Scheisse Stride

Let's talk about Simon Stride.

In most productions of the musical, Stride doesn't have much to do. He's a secretary at the hospital. In the engagement party we find out he's Emma (or in some script editions, Lisa)'s ex-boyfriend. Then he disappears for two hours and resurfaces only to meet his end in Mr. Hyde's hands during the last scene. Looking at the show as a whole, it seems his only function is to get killed.

That wasn't the case with Dr. William Scheisse, Simon Stride's first incarnation.

Yes, Dr. William Scheisse. Yes, I think we've all heard German profanities before – that means exactly what you think it does.

On the 1987 concept recording, Stride sings Good 'N' Evil, the song Lucy performs in The Red Rat in some of the newer productions.

Evil's the one which is nothing but fun
Good is the one which is not
You must decide which is which
And what is what

Very subtle.

It's just right Stride should sing a song fit for The Red Rat. He used to own the place. In the first editions of the script, Dr. Scheisse was a busy man: he was a respectable doctor by day, sabotaged Jekyll's experiments on the side, and worked as a pimp by night.

When the Houston premiere approached, someone snapped to their senses and decided to get rid of the absurd Dr. Scheisse subplot. This didn't please actor Bill Nolte, who was supposed to play the character in 1990. As the villainous William Scheisse transformed into the meek Simon Stride, Nolte left the production.

Knowing this, Stride's character in the current musical productions seems kind of like a human tail bone – a remnant of something that used to be there ages ago but has since faded away.

3) Mr. Ripper

In Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the year of events is written as "18—".

Many scripts of the musical state the story takes place in the year 1888. It's a nice-looking number, so why not... But in fact, it seems the year originates from the early concepts.

The second act opening song Murder, Murder was first recorded on the 1986 demo. There, instead of taking Jekyll's revenge on the Board of Governors, Mr. Hyde arbitrarily murders working girls walking the streets of London.

Sounds familiar? Jack the Ripper murdered East End-based prostitutes in the fall of 1888.

That's two in the last five nights.
That's two who've paid the price.
First Nettie, now Marie!
Could the next be you or me!

Still subtler than "Look at this, another murder / Just like that other murder".

In Dacre Stoker's hideous Dracula sequel Dracula the Un-Dead, it turned out Jack the Ripper was actually a vampire. Here, he used to be Mr. Hyde. It seems people who write adaptations based on gothic novels simply cannot resist mixing the real-life murder mystery with whichever monster their adaptation features...

Well, at least the team behind Jekyll & Hyde the musical had the sense to scrap the idea.

4) Mr. Uttersons

Dr. Jekyll is famous for his split personality. But who knew his friend Mr. Utterson had two different natures as well!

In Stevenson's original novel, the narration focuses on Utterson. We follow Jekyll's lawyer friend when he solves the titular strange case. His investigations are more important than his personality. In the musical, Utterson serves as someone for Jekyll to talk to. The character is important because he helps to move the plot forward, but in most scripts, he doesn't have much of a personality.

So it's a bit odd that the few characteristics he has differ wildly from production to production. This is evident in the scene where Jekyll and Utterson visit The Red Rat.

Sometimes, Utterson is a party animal. It's he who suggests that Jekyll should relax and take a detour to The Red Rat. There, the madame recognises her loyal customer and yells for the girls to serve champagne for "Mr. Utterson's party".

Other times, Utterson doesn't feel like celebrating. Really doesn't. He tries his best to stop Jekyll from going to the brothel, helpfully reminding him that it's not safe, and for goodness' sake if we really must go, I will absolutely refuse to have a good time. In these cases, it's Jekyll who insists it'll be fun and drags his friend along.

The original Broadway production took the party animal path, but in newer productions, it seems the moralist version prevails. Wonder if Utterson will ever find his groove again?

Bonus round: Bad Production Choices Bingo

The script of Jekyll & Hyde the musical has been through a lot. Today, with Dr. William Scheisse and Jack the Ripper safely removed from the plot, it seems many productions feature reoccurring directional quirks instead... Keep this bingo sheet at hand the next time you watch any Jekyll & Hyde video on Youtube, or even better, see the show live.

Someone usually shouts bingo! before the first act is over.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Some Superfluous Opinions

Music & My Mind's lovely author Manette nominated me for a Blogger Recognition award!

Thank you!

Tag rules:

  • Attach the award.
  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Provide a link to the original post at Edge of Night
  • Give a brief story of how your blog got started and a piece or two of advice for new bloggers.
  • Select 15 blogs to nominate.
  • Comment on each nominee's blog and let them know that you've nominated them.


Literally the least dramatic story ever. It was summer, I was 17 years old and very bored. I've always liked writing and I had recently started liking theatre, so I combined those. I first thought to write about all sorts of things that interested me, movies and such, but the focus shifted to theatre almost immediately. I called my new blog a place for thoughts that don't always seem to find an avid listener in real life but which I still want to tell someone about.

Why English, though? I don't remember. Before Some Superfluous Opinions I had blogged in Finnish, mostly light columns about my own life. I guess I wanted to try something new. I didn't think of it as an educational project, but I suppose blogging in English has improved my language skills.

I sometimes regret my choice of language. Oftentimes it doesn't seem to make sense I'm afraid no one who doesn't speak Finnish is interested enough in Finnish shows to read my reviews. And whenever Finnish theatres share my posts on social media (kiitos!), I feel a bit ashamed that all the Finns who click the link have to read my thoughts in English.

But on the other hand, there's no one else writing about Finnish theatre in English. I'd like to read, say, reviews of Estonian theatre in English, but none seem to exist so if there's anyone who feels the same way about Finnish theatre, they at least have this blog. And in the Finnish blogosphere, with no other culture blogs in English, I guess my choice of language ensures I have an ecological niche all for myself. I also want the people who make the shows I review to able to understand my texts should they want to read them, so whenever I see foreign musicals, it's handy I'm already blogging in English.

I regret the blog's title, but it's five years too late to change it anymore.


Firstly, patience. A new blog won't gain readers overnight. I've been blogging since 2010, and for the first couple of years, my blog had hardly any monthly traffic. Lately, it's been a bit better, last year was almost busy blog traffic-wise but there's still way to go, and it took years of regular blogging for my current readers to find here. Though I guess if you're blogging foremost for attention, you're doing it wrong in the first place.

Secondly, label well and have your contact information available. Especially if you, like me, are a blogger that specialises on a certain hobby or interest. There might be someone who comes to your blog to find specific information, or wants to collaborate with you in some way. Help them out by tagging your posts and having your e-mail address available.

Thirdly, comment. This is something I could improve on myself. I guess I'm too self-critical when it comes to commenting others' texts I feel if I cannot bring any brilliant new thoughts to the table, it's better to not comment at all. Wrong! Maybe simply telling a fellow blogger I enjoy their writing could cheer up their day. It sure would brighten mine.

I'm not in a tagging mood today, so I don't think I will be forwarding this tag to anyone this time. Thank you to Manette for tagging me and giving me a chance to babble about myself, though!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Tapaus Hevosten keinu

This is about a new Finnish play. Back to posting in English soon again!

Tänä teatteritalvena olen tuskin käväissytkään mukavuusalueellani. Tampereen Työväen Teatterin kevään puhutuin teos Hevosten keinu on myös kaukana sieltä.


Olen viimeisen vuoden sisään avautunut blogissani (lukijoiden) kyllästymiseen asti, että jos näytelmässä esiintyy eräs Severi Saarinen, katsomossa istua nököttää eräs teatteribloggari. Teoksesta ja roolista riippumatta.

Siinäpä koko syy sille, miksi ostin lipun ensimmäiseen mahdolliseen Hevosten keinun näytökseen.

Näin esityksen jo tammikuussa, enkä alkuun ajatellut kirjoittaa kokemuksestani. Luettuani eilen jälleen yhden näytelmää kehuneen blogitekstin tulin toisiin mietteisiin.

On nimittäin ollut jännä lukea kommentteja ja arvosteluja Hevosten keinusta. Vaikka tämä tai tämä tai tämä tai tämä. Tuskin moitteen sanaa! Näytelmästä todella tykätään. Kommentaattorit ovat kuorossa vannoneet, että Tampereella on tarjolla oikea herkkupala sekä sarjan edellisten osien ystäville että uusille faneille.

Itse olen toisella kannalla.

Hevosten keinu on neljäs osa Kotalan perheestä kertovassa trilogiassa (nauraisin, jollei Linnunradan käsikirja liftareille olisi kuluttanut tätä vitsiä jo loppuun). Nelososassa perhe, jota elämä on ilmeisesti potkinut päähän aikaisemminkin, on pakannut maallisen omaisuutensa Ladaan ja lähtenyt kohti Romaniaa elämän EU-Suomessa käytyä mahdottomaksi. Vaan ei ole helppoa maailman laidallakaan: ei aikaakaan, kun perhe jo uhkaa sekaantua Venäjän mafian ihmiskauppakuvioihin.

Minulla ei Kotaloiden uutena tuttavana ollut mitään tunnesidettä hahmoihin esiripun noustessa – eikä sellaista päässyt näytelmän aikana muodostumaan. Monien ylistämä hahmojen välinen yhteisöllisyys tuntui minusta oikeastaan enemmän ilkeämieliseltä naljailulta ja perheen vaikeudet itseaiheutetuilta.

Enimmäkseen minulla oli kuitenkin tylsää.

Dialogi rullasi kyllä vauhdikkaasti, mutta tarina polki kaksi tuntia pitkälti paikallaan. Juonen lattea kaari päättyi epämääräiseen lässähdykseen. Ilman lempinäyttelijää lavalla (potentiaalisen ihmiskauppiaan roolissa) olisin varmasti haukotellut ääneen... Ja nytkin loppu teki tiukkaa. Mainittu näyttelijä poistui parrasvaloista makuuni parikymmentä minuuttia liian aikaisin ja vei vähäisen mielenkiintoni mennessään.

Lähdin teatterista laimein tunnelmin.

Kuvassa lasta yritetään kovaa vauhtia kaapata ihmiskauppaan.
Sanovat tätä hulvattomaksi ja koskettavaksi näytelmäksi!

Ehkä kyseessä on sukupolvien välinen kuilu. Hevosten keinu lienee ensisijaisesti suunnattu minua parikymmentä vuotta vanhemmalle yleisölle. Vaikka minulla yleensä onkin satavuotiaan maku – Mielensäpahoittaja on suursuosikkini – voi olla, että ikä tuo mukanaan perspektiiviä, jonka avulla Kotalan perheen kipuiluista saa enemmän irti. Tiedä häntä. Palauttakaa näytelmä lavalle vuonna 2035, niin testataan.

Tai ehkäpä ongelma on kontekstin puute. Jos olisin ollut yleisön joukossa Kotala-saagan ensimmäisestä osasta alkaen ja hahmot olisivat vanhoja tuttujani, varmaan neljäs osa kolahtaisi ihan eri tavalla kuin nyt.

Olen eri mieltä monien kriitikoiden väitteestä, että uusikin katsoja pääsee kyllä mukaan. Tai no, pääsee kyllä, käsiohjelmassa avattiin edellisiä osia kiitettävästi. Mutta jos sarjan neljännen näytelmän loppukohtaus vie takaisin ekan osan tapahtumapaikoille, eihän se nelososasta aloittaneelle mitään merkitse. Tunnepuolella pitkän linjan katsojien Hevosten keinu -kokemus on varmasti vaikuttavampi.

Jatko-osat eivät ole yleisiä teatterissa, joten ymmärrän hyvin, että faneista on ihanaa nähdä lempihahmonsa lavalla vielä kerran. Ehkä Les Misérables II: Barrikadi-zombiet seikkailevat olisi minulle se, mitä Hevosten keinu on monelle muulle.

Voi myös olla, että näytelmä yksinkertaisesti osui liian lähelle. Kotalan perheen naiset kun muistuttivat minua omasta suvustani pahimmalla mahdollisella tavalla.

Oli mitä oli, tältä pohjalta on ollut kiinnostavaa vertailla omia tuntemuksiani muiden ylistäviin arvosteluihin.

Esitykseen sirotellut sirkustemput olivat
kyllä komeaa katseltavaa.

En yritä tällä tekstillä sanoa, että kaikki te tuhannet Kotala-fanit olisitte jotenkin väärässä. Päinvastoin. Antakaa mennä, nauttikaa, fanittakaa! Teatterin ystävänähän en voi kuin olla innoissani, että näytelmäsarjasta on tullut ilmiö, olkoonkin etten itse pysty ilmiön viehätystä ymmärtämään.

Minulle Hevosten keinu avasi ja alleviivasi vanhan latteuden merkitystä. Makunsa kullakin.


Kuvat: Kari Sunnari / Tampereen Työväen Teatteri