Monday, April 27, 2015

Top 5 Frank Wildhorn Disappointments

Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about music theory and I'm sure it shows in this post. Please correct me and educate me if you see me using any wrong terms!

Over the past couple of years, I've turned into a fan of composer Frank Wildhorn.

The weird things is that I do not think any of Wildhorn's musicals are especially brilliant. Quite the contrary, actually. I dislike his dull love triangles and his flat female characters, and I'm not too fond of his tendency to reuse his own melodies either. And yet, despite that, his shows make me happy. A true love-hate relationship here.

But about that melody reusing. Ever since first listening to Jekyll & Hyde and thinking that hey, doesn't this sound like the Dracula song I heard a while ago... Spotting melodies familiar from other Wildhorn musicals has become something of a hobby for me. I feel a pang of both victory and disappointment every time I notice a new instance of repeated melodies. Sure, every other musical composer recycles material. But good ol' Wildhorn has some especially blatant reused moments.

Here is my top five list of the most disappointing times Frank Wildhorn has reused his own tunes in his musicals... so far. 

#5: Someone Like You (1987) / Someone Like You (1990 onwards) – Jekyll & Hyde

Listening to Jekyll & Hyde the musical, it's easy to think of Someone Like You as the defining song for Lucy. It's a soaring song that highlights not only her love towards Jekyll but also her personality and her situation in life – a song about a hopeless dreamer living a nightmare and finally seeing a way out. My heart would take wing and I'd feel so alive / If someone like you loved me...

Or so I used to think, before I found out that on the 1987 concept album, Someone Like You used to be Emma and Jekyll's duet. With almost exactly the same lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, too. This is a different sort of recycling than the rest of this list, but disappointing in its own right anyway. It just doesn't feel right. This was supposed to be Lucy's moment, not something written with Emma and Jekyll in mind!

Oh well. It's a pretty song in any case, got to give it that.

#4: Life After Life (Dracula) / Finish What You Started (Rudolf)

In and of itself, Rudolf the musical is a huge disappointment. Most Wildhorn shows are bad in a silly, enjoyable way – but this one about Austria-Hungary's ill-fated crown prince is just terrible. Laura puts it well in her review: In short, the musical sucks. It has some nice songs and moments, but overall it sucks. From twisting history to romanticising suicide, it's awful.

To have a tune lifted from a better Wildhorn show slapped in the middle of all that sludge...

Life After Life is Dracula the musical's first act finale. It's a nice tune about Dracula wanting to suck the whole London dry. In Rudolf, a part of Life After Life makes a cameo in a scene where Crown Prince Rudolf discusses revolutionary affairs with his countrymen.

The whole melody is not lifted from one musical to another. The similarities are actually almost subtle enough for these to sounds like two completely different songs – almost. This is something Wildhorn does often, lifting bits and pieces from his previous shows and disguising them as new tunes. Shame he doesn't quite manage to fool the listener here.

#3: His Work and Nothing More (Jekyll & Hyde) / Nosferatu (Dracula)

Jekyll & Hyde the musical and Dracula the musical take place in the same universe and no one can convince me otherwise. Think about it! Gothic tales, both set in 19th century London, Mr. Hyde and Count Dracula terrorising the city together... They're such a good match they even share parts of the same melody.

This is another pair that is not quite the same but still too close for comfort. His Work and Nothing More is a quartet where Jekyll's loved ones worry about him. Nosferatu is a cautionary solo about the dangers of the undead ones. Try singing Utterson's it's like when love dies line on top of Professor van Helsing, the word dies falling on the same beat as the last syllable of the word "Nosferatu" – you'll notice the similarity right away.

This is the first Wildhorn repeat I ever noticed. Figuring out the connection in between these two was such a victorious moment the triumph almost washed away the disappointment, actually.

#2:  Only Love (The Scarlet Pimpernel) / Only Love (Rudolf)

Now we're just being lazy. This is the exact same song popping up in two different musicals.

Only Love is not included in the most recent script edition of The Scarlet Pimpernel anymore. It is, however, recorded on the musical's original Broadway cast recording. I haven't seen it in context, but I assume it's the leading lady Marguerite pining after her estranged husband Percy... So no wonder it was removed, I think there are three other songs like that in the show already. In Rudolf, it's Baroness Mary Vetsera serenading her titular royal lover.

This combo gets extra disappointment points for recycling not only the song's title, but also Nan Knighton's exact same lyrics from The Scarlet Pimpernel's OBC to Rudolf's English demo. The lyrics are so incredibly vague they fit two completely different musicals.

Though, to be honest... Wildhorn's love stories are all practically interchangeable anyway, so maybe it's not too surprising. Don't turn away, it's only love – there's a motto that suits all his romances. Wonder if this will be recycled to a third show sometimes soon.

#1: Falcon in the Dive (The Scarlet Pimpernel) / Hell to Your Doorstep (The Count of Monte Cristo)

Falcon in the Dive is a memorable showtune. The villain Chauvelin is by far the most fascinating character in The Scarlet Pimpernel, and here, he gets to rage about the titular Pimpernel to his heart's content. No wonder Falcon pops up in musical concerts all over – be it Norm Lewis or a Finnish theatre student singing the song.

So why on earth would you reuse a melody as memorable as this one as the showstopper in another show? Falcon returns as a part of The Count of Monte Cristo's first act finale Hell to Your Doorstep, where the titular character rages about his hatred towards the world in general.

Granted, it's again not the whole tune – rather, it's just the fast-paced bit at the very beginning of the songs. But even so, it's recognisable enough to feel like a slap in the face. Start singing either song's lyrics on top of the other right from the start to test it for yourself. The word "moment" even falls on the exact same place in both songs! Aaargh!

Since Falcon is easily my number one Wildhorn song, this is especially disappointing for me and therefore deserves the number one spot.

To end on a loving note, however... If you ever happen to meet him, say hello to Mr. Wildhorn for me and let him know that despite all this, I truely enjoy his musicals. The musical world would be a lot duller place without him.

Repeated tunes and all.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Internship Diaries, part 2: Continuations

Keeping this short and sweet this time.

Remember when a couple of months ago, I wrote about interning in Turun kaupunginteatteri?

My internship ended last week. But would you believe me if I told you that from now until December, I will be working in the theatre instead? That after three overwhelming, exciting months, I'm now a real part-time employee in Turun kaupunginteatteri?

It's true! The theatre's Twitter and Instagram, plus all sorts of helping around in the office!

If you know me at all, you know that for me, this is a real dream-come-true. I still cannot believe it. It's hard to understand that all the way to December, I shall be working there, learning new things about theatre as I go, and getting paid for it. It feels too good to be true. I'm a bit afraid of the day it finally really hits home that I'm really working in a theatre – I might explode out of sheer joy.

When I'm not working in theatre, I shall continue watching shows and writing about them. Blog-wise, this however means one change: as long as my employment lasts, I obviously won't be reviewing Turun kaupunginteatteri's productions.

I will probably still discuss some of them (as if I could shut up about Jekyll & Hyde for longer than two consecutive days!), but as long as I work there, there will be no reviewing or otherwise evaluating the quality of the theatre's current repertoire. If I write about the theatre, I will add a disclaimer that I also work there in each post. Please kick me if you catch me forgetting.

And please catch me when I finally understand that yes, this is real life. I've a feeling I'm going to faint when the realisation hits.

Photo originally posted in the theatre's Instagram.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

From the Heart

Please note: I was invited to see this show for free.

Afrobeat from the Heart is a musical about the Nigerian musician and human rights activist Fela Kuti. The production had its premiere in Helsinki last year. This year, they have visited Tampere and now Teatteri Forum in Helsinki.

The premise sounds like Fela! the musical, but newly created by a multicultural cast and creative team, Afrobeat from the Heart is a different spin on the topic. And why not – it seems there is enough to Fela Kuti's life to inspire multiple musicals.

Though, well... Personally, I would hesitate to call Afrobeat from the Heart a musical, per se. It's more like a dance show, or a dramatised concert. The focus was largely on the dance and on the music, the storytelling really took a backseat.

There was very little plot to the show. Fela went to jail, Fela was released, life was still unfair – let's play music! The few dialogue scenes, written my writer-director Hossni Boudali, were awkward and preachy at best. I didn't get a sense of the main character as a person.

But maybe that wasn't the point. The whole Fela Kuti theme worked as a vehicle for some nice dancing and singing. The dance scenes (which there were a lot of) were a lot of fun to watch. A couple of the dancers had seriously impressive moves! I also liked the all-around pretty and colourful look of the show, from beautiful fabrics to the elaborate hairstyles the dancers had.

But the best part of Afrobeat from the Heart was the music, Fela Kuti covers played by an eight-member band. I've never heard afrobeat before. Based on my first experience here, I wouldn't mind hearing some more! Energetic, loud, rhytmic and catchy. Not catchy enough to make me dance during the last song, though, like they encouraged the audience to do – music catchy enough for that hasn't been invented. I have two really clumsy left feet, thank you, I'd just rather sit here and watch...

Overall, I'm happy I saw this.

Do I know more about Fela Kuti's life now? Marginally. But did I enjoy hearing music from a genre I've never heard before? You bet! What's more, Afrobeat from the Heart was performed from the heart indeed. The performance was packed with heartfelt energy. I appreciate that.

Photos from the production's Facebook page.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jekyll, Hyde and Jack the Ripper

In my post about the history of Jekyll & Hyde the musical, I mentioned that Jack the Ripper's crimes inspired the musical's creative team. But who knew it was also rumoured to have worked the other way around! Looking further into the history of theatrical adaptations of Jekyll & Hyde, it turns out that in 1888, it was thought the fictional story inspired the real-life killer...

Let's take a look at some grizzly theatre history.

19th century actor Richard Mansfield as Jekyll and Hyde.

In 1888, London's theatreland was all about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Two Broadway productions of Jekyll & Hyde, one starring actor-producer Richard Mansfield and another written by and starring German actor Daniel Bandmann, were planning a London transfer. Allegedly Bandmann had first been inspired to create competition for Mansfield's production after Mansfield refused his request for complementary tickets to his show. So, when Mansfield announced his plans to transfer his Jekyll to London in September, Bandmann aimed for August – finally, the two productions premiered right after each other on August 4th and 5th of 1888.

It's fascinating to think how the 1888 audiences experienced Jekyll and Hyde's story.

In the past century, Jekyll and Hyde have become household names. Their story is taught at schools and has been the subject of countless adaptations and parodies. The theme of good and evil is always relevant, so it's no wonder the tale still fascinates audiences – but when we these days enter a theatre to watch Jekyll & Hyde, we know from the start what the relationship in between the titular characters is. Reading the original novel, same deal. The central mystery has been spoiled for us by common knowledge.

But imagine entering the theatre in 1888, only two years after Robert Louis Stevenson's novel was first published.

The novel was an instant success, so I'm sure many spectators knew the drill. But since it was still such a new tale, it's possible some of the audience members back then saw the play without knowing how it was going to end. For them, it must've been an especially thrilling experience!

Nowadays, you cannot have a Jekyll & Hyde adaptation where the conflict centers around solving Hyde's true identity, though that's exactly how the book works. But back in the 19th century, the onstage productions still trusted the novel's structure to have shock value and only revealed Jekyll as Hyde in the third act. A true test to the skills of the lead and the costume and makeup designers, I imagine – portraying the two characters so differently that the reveal would really surprise the audience.

A playbill for Mansfield's production. Spoilers,
Jekyll and Hyde are indeed played by the same actor!

Nowadays, London in the fall of 1888 is of course associated with something quite a bit darker than onstage productions of a Gothic thriller.

Only two days after the premiere of Bandmann's production of Jekyll & Hyde, a woman was murdered in London's Whitechapel district. Nowadays, it is suspected she might have been a victim of the unidentified serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, and she was not the last one. As the theatrical productions continued to treat their audiences to Mr. Hyde's fictional terror, the East End murders terrified Londoners for real.

Weird accusations contrasting the play and Whitechapel's serial killer soon started popping up. Some claimed Stevenson's novel was to blame, but others pointed fingers at the plays for inspiring the real-life violence. For example, on October 4th 1888, Pall Mall Gazette speculated the following:

Possibly the culprit is an army doctor suffering from sunstroke. He has seen the horrible play, lives in Bayswater or North London, in perhaps a decent square or terrace, dressed well. Goes out about 10pm straight to Whitechapel. Commits deed. Home again to breakfast. Wash, brush-up, sleep. Himself again – Dr [sic] Hyde. Meantime, everybody scouring the scene of the tragedy for the usual type of a murderer.

"He has seen the horrible play" indeed. The magic of live theatre – might cause murders! Media blaming various forms of entertainment for violent behaviour seems to have long traditions.

Some people went beyond merely accusing the fictional story of giving the murderer ideas. Lead actor Richard Mansfield was briefly under suspicion for the murders. Some theatregoers couldn't believe an actor could portray the monstrous Mr. Hyde without having an evil side to his own personality. In a sense, Mansfield was accused of being too good an actor!

According to some sources, one theatregoer went as far as to actually tell the police about their suspicions regarding Mansfield. Rumours also had it that Scotland Yard questioned the actor.

Of course, Mansfield was never arrested. He nevertheless felt a need to clean his reputation. In wake of the accusations, he produced a charity performance to raise money for reformed prostitutes.

Mansfield went on to perform the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in various productions, all the way until his death in 1907 – so it doesn't seem the rumours hurt his reputation too deeply. Even so, his name is still mentioned on lists of possible Jack the Rippers to this day. He was even portrayed in the 1988 TV series "Jack the Ripper" as a suspected killer.

A page from Cole Haddon and M. S. Corley's comic
"The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde". See the rest of
the preview here.

After the initial rumours that connected the story, the actor and the killer, Jack the Ripper's crimes have every now and then popped up in various adaptations of Jekyll & Hyde.

A 1971 Hammer Horror film "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde" has a male Jekyll transform into a woman – and also portrays Ms. Hyde as Jack the Ripper. The 1989 film "Edge of Sanity" mixes the character of Hyde and the crimes of the Ripper, with Anthony Perkins in the dual role.

A 2011 comic called "The Strange Case Of Mr. Hyde" by Dark Horse Comics features Dr. Jekyll hunting down Jack the Ripper. A movie adaptation of the comic was announced in 2011, but it doesn't seem the film is in the works anymore. There is also a 1997 computer game called "Mystery in London: On the Trail of Jack the Ripper" that connects the Ripper with Stevenson's novel.

And of course, there is the musical. As I mentioned in my earlier post, some versions of the script set the story in autumn 1888 as a memento of the Jack the Ripper references otherwise cut from the show.

I want to close all this talk of serial killers on a lighter note. In 1888, London wasn't the only place to see Jekyll & Hyde onstage. There was also a production that toured the United States. It was seen by a theatrical critic who summarised their feelings in Mitchell Daily Republican on October 23rd 1888:

We have got the craze and for the next few days will be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the brain.

No matter the grave rumours that connected the story with murders, it's amazing to think that theatrical adaptations of Jekyll & Hyde got fans excited in 1888 just like they do in 2015! 

This article and its related pages were a fantastic source for this text. If you wish to learn more about the 1888 productions of Jekyll & Hyde and their connection to Jack the Ripper, go check it out!