Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Hoodie Story

Being a musical fan for over six years, you're bound to amass some souvenirs. That's what has happened to me, at least: slowly but surely, my apartment has turned into a musical shrine.

I have folders full of souvenir programmes and shelves stuffed with cast recordings. My walls are covered with theatre posters. Once, I even commissioned handmade little dolls of my favourite musical characters – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Utterson from the first Finnish production of Jekyll & Hyde – from a talented online friend.

Precious, are they not?

However. These are all nice things to own, fun stuff to decorate my apartment with, but no more than that (maybe apart from the dolls, I think I would save them if the house was on fire). The most important thing in theatre is of course the experience itself. The performaces, the music, the stories told onstage... Everything else is extra. If I had to choose, I'd much rather spend my money on a new theatre ticket than any trinket from a souvenir stand.

Except for the Rocky hoodie.

I went to see Rocky the musical with no high expectations, looking forward an entertaining performance and nothing more. Killing time in the theatre's foyer before the performance, I took a look at the souvenir stand. Overpriced t-shirts and silly keychains shaped like boxing gloves. Who needs any of this! Nothing here for me.

After the show, I was too excited to think about anything as mundane as purchasing merchandise. The show had blown my mind. I was bursting with joy and excitement and also happy about getting to stagedoor the stars – something a Finnish theatre fan doesn't often get to do.

But rushing happily towards the stagedoor, something displayed in the souvenir stand caught my eye. A black hoodie, with the musical's logo printed on the back in a different shade of black. Quite stylish for a souvenir... and at 40 €, worth a ticket to a Finnish musical performace. Quickly, I told myself I had been spending more than enough money during the trip already, and besides, I have a closet full of hoodies back home. Then I left the theatre for the stagedoor.

Getting to meet the show's leading actor Drew Sarich cleared the hoodie out of my mind for the night. But in the morning, I remembered it.

During the next two days, me and my travelling companion Lida walked in parks, went to The International Maritime Museum, watched the Hamburg Pride parade and visited the huge fairground Hamburger Dom. All this time, the hoodie haunted my mind. Hardly an hour passed without me thinking about it, no matter where we went or what we did.

Watching this sunset from our hotel room
window could not distract me.

In less than 24 hours, the piece of clothing turned into a burning obsession.

I tried the money approach. I told myself I would regret it. I could buy a musical ticket with that money back home. Or two perfectly fine new hoodies from some clothing chain. I reminded myself my credit card balance was in the red already.

I tried the fashion sense approach. Who wants to wear a black hoodie when all the colours of the rainbow exist! Besides, the letters on the back will fade away, probably in the first wash.

I even tried talking sense to my suddenly obsessed brain. Would I really want to walk around advertsing, of all things, Rocky the Musical? Boxing, sports movies? Totally not my things. It would just attract weird looks.

No use.

After a day, I thought about the hoodie four times more often than I thought about the musical itself.

After a day and a half, I cracked.

I told my friend Lida – using, angered at my own lack of self-control, rather more colourful language than I usually do – that I was going to take the underground to the theatre. The Sunday matinee had just started, so the souvenir stand should be open, during intermission at least. If I had to, I would sit on the steps outside the theatre until the show was over. I would not return without a Rocky hoodie.

I went to the theatre.

The following discussion in between me and the theatre's doorkeeper, an older gentleman, ensued:

Me: “I saw this show two days ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. So I would really want to buy something to remember it by. Does the souvenir stand open soon?”
Him: “Have you been having nightmares?”
Me: “What? No! I meant that I loved the show.”
Him: “Are you serious? This show is trash."

A moment's pause.

Him: "But the souvenir stand does open in twenty minutes."

I have never regretted a purchase less.
P.S. Listen to my favourite song from Rocky the Musical.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Autumn Musicals

Hello in English again! Who's seen plenty of outdoor theatre this summer? I sure have. My summer theatre tour encompassed eight outdoor productions, and honestly, that's quite enough for me... Summer's all nice and good, but having had my toes frozen and my skin burned while watching outdoor shows, I think it's about time for some indoor culture again.

Tradition dictates that my summer theatre season is over when Helsingin kaupunginteatteri invites me to their autumn season opening gala. Luckily, that happened last Monday. This year, the event focused on the theatre's upcoming production of Billy Elliot.

The Stars Look Down

I have seen Billy Elliot once, in West End some six years ago. I like the story and had a nice enough time, but I'm not a fan. In general, Elton John's music is not to my liking. I'm looking forward to seeing what Helsingin kaupunginteatteri does with the material, and based on the sneak peeks we saw in the theatre's season opening gala, I might enjoy the show better here than in London. Still, I doubt I'll fall in love with the musical. But we'll see!

What am I really looking forward to seeing in the autumn of 2015, then?

Jekyll & Hyde... or Emma & Lucy!

First of all, Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri's production of Jekyll & Hyde. Of course. After the huge impression the first Finnish production of said musical left, I am beyond curious to see what another theatre can do with it. Based on promotional photos so far, the steampunk-ish visuals look great. I have my worries about the script, but even so, I am counting days to the premiere.

Secondly, Desirée or A Little Night Music in Tampereen Työväen Teatteri. You can read more about my thoughts in my previous post from February. In short: a good musical performed by a promising cast directed by someone whose previous works I've enjoyed. In all likelihood, something to enjoy.

The Phantom of the National Opera

Thirdly, Finnish National Opera's The Phantom of the Opera. The world's favourite musical finally arrives to my country, how could I not be curious about it! Well, the production has some aspects I'm not excited about, like keeping the libretto in English though a vast majority of the cast speak Finnish. I'm also not a fan of some of director Tiina Puumalainen's previous musical productions. But on the other hand – it'll be a brand-new production of a musical whose original production and countless replicas I'm, to be honest, completely fed up with. I'm excited to see which aspects of the familiar story the Finnish production decides to focus on.

Bonus mention to Tampereen Teatteri's upcoming production of Sugar. Some Like It Hot is one of my favourite movies. I know nothing about the musical, so I'm both curious about it and certain I won't like the stage show as much as I like the film...

I will also try to fit some all-Finnish musicals into my autumn schedule. Åbo Svenska Teater and Lahden kaupunginteatteri are both staging their own versions of Myrskyluodon Maija, a Finnish musical set in mid-19th century Åland Islands. It's always interesting to compare how two theatres handle the same material. These two theatres especially – they already produced two completely different productions of Hair at the same time in 2012.

Lahden kaupunginteatteri's Myrskyluodon Maija

Finally, one more reason I both look forward and dread seeing Billy Elliot.

I don't often cry in theatre. Music especially doesn't make me cry. Sometimes I tear up if a story touches me, but only a small handful of songs have ever managed to squeeze tears out of me.

One of those is Billy Elliot's The Letter. Billy's dance teacher Mrs. Wilkinson reads a letter Billy's mother wrote to her son before her death. I don't relate to the song, I don't identify with Billy as a character, I don't even especially like the tune – but something here completely breaks me. In West End, I couldn't see the stage from my tears. The kids sitting next to me turned to look at my uncontrolled display of emotion instead of watching the actors. I have cried listening to this on online musical radio. Heaven knows how I managed to film the scene without crying, but watching it, I cannot get past the point where Billy starts singing without tearing up.

Please don't laugh at me if I turn into a human waterfall when seeing Billy Elliot live.

Photos by Jiri Halttunen / Marjo Vihavainen (Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri), Perttu Saksa (Finnish National Opera), Johannes Wilenius (Lahden kaupunginteatteri). As always, hover over the photos for info.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Kesäteatterikesä: Päätös

Elämäni toinen kesäteatterikesä on nyt takanapäin.

Monille kesäteatteri on automaattinen kesäperinne. Itse kuulun eri leiriin. Ennen Kesäteatterikesä 2014 -tempaustani olin nähnyt vain neljä kesäteatteriesitystä: musikaalin, kaksi koko perheelle suunnattua seikkailua ja Molièren klassikkotekstin. Nyt, kahden kesän aktiivisen kesäteatterikruisailun jälkeen, näkemieni teosten määrä lasketaan kymmenissä. Olen ihastunut, vihastunut ja vilustunut kesäisissä katsomoissa.

Mitä jäi käteen?

Ensimmäinen kesäteatterikierrokseni syntyi puolivahingossa – myönnettäköön ruma totuus tässä kaikkien edessä, halusta nähdä Matti ja Teppo -musikaali maksamatta siitä.

Toisessa vaakakupissa painoi musikaalissa esiintynyt lempinäyttelijäni, toisessa vastentahtoisuus maksaa pääsystä kaikkien aikojen typerimpään kesäteatterihölmöilyyn. Ilmainen lehdistölippu tuntui hyvältä kompromissilta, mutta miten ihmeessä perustella iskelmämusikaalin arvosteleminen blogissani... Siinäpä jalot ja ylevät lähtökohtani! Kieroilun ympärille kehittyi sentään äkkiä kunnianhimoisempi tavoite, kesäkierros itselleni vieraan lajityypin maailmassa.

Tämän vuoden kesäteatterikesä on pohjimmiltaan koulutyö. Opiskelen journalismia, ja opintosuunnitelmaani on sisällytetty mahdollisuus omien projektien toteuttamiseen. Sain tilaisuuden tehdä teatteriblogini kesäsarjasta projektin. Toivottavasti sarja on ollut mukavaa luettavaa. Itse olen ainakin matkan varrella oppinut muutamia asioita sekä teatterista että siitä kirjoittamisesta.

Olen havainnut esimerkiksi seuraavaa: kesäteatteria on kahta lajia. On esityksiä, jotka voisivat pyöriä myös sisällä, ja esityksiä, jotka ovat leimallisesti kesäteatteria ja vaativat näyttämökseen ulkotilan. Yleisesti ottaen jälkimmäinen kategoria ei ole makuuni. Nostalgiassa rypevät maalaiskomediat ja laimeat farssit eivät ole minua varten.

En tietenkään tarkoita sanoa, että kaikki kesäteatteri on huonoa. Kesäteatterikierrokseni ovat tutustuttaneet minut muutamiin todellisiin helmiin.

Tänä vuonna ihastuin erityisesti Turun Kesäteatterin Aarresaareen. Kesäseikkailuni aloittanut Samppalinnan Kesäteatterin Matti ja Teppo -musikaali puolestaan osoittautui viime kesän parhaaksi elämykseksi. Voin ylpeänä kertoa kustantaneeni itseni katsomoon toisenkin kerran, ja olen tänä kesänä muistellut esitystä lämmöllä. Matti ja Teppo oli lajityypin parodiana vieläpä nimenomaan vierastamaani, vain ulkotiloihin sopivaa kesäteatteria.

Mutta keskimäärin niin kutsuttu perinteinen kesäteatteri ei ole minua varten. Jos saan valita, en halua katsoa sketsikimaraa, en jukebox-musikaalia, en vanhempieni sukupolvelle suunnattua nostalgiapurkausta. Monet näkemäni esitykset ovat kyllä olleet mukavia ja viihdyttäviä, mutta silti kovin nopeasti unohtuvaa lajia.

Vähän kuin avaisi television vain katsoakseen aikansa kuluksi jotakin. Ajattelen useita kesäteatteriesityksiä välinpitämättömyydellä, jollaisella en koskaan muistele esimerkiksi talvisia musikaalikokemuksiani. Huonokin musikaali jättää minuun jäljen. Kädenlämpöinen kesäteatteri haihtuu iholtani ja katoaa.

En väitä edustavani ainoaa oikeaa mielipidettä. Niin sanotulla perinteisellä kesäteatterilla on ystävänsä, minkä katsojaluvut todistavat. Mutta väitän edustavani ikäisteni keskuudessa kohtuullisen yleisiä tunnelmia. Päätelköön kukin kesäteatterin tulevaisuudesta tämän pohjalta mitä päättelee – omat päätelmäni esitin jo viime vuonna.

Välillä on hyvä astua mukavuusalueensa ulkopuolelle, niin katsojana kuin bloggarinakin. En kuitenkaan halua täysin kyllästyttää itseäni suomalaiseen kesäkulttuuriin. Ensi kesänä aion siis poimia rusinat pullasta ja katsoa kaiken saavutettavissa olevan ammattikesäteatterin sijaan vain esitykset, jotka todella haluan nähdä. Muu saa jäädä.

Ja tulevia kesiä odotellessa sukellan jännittävään musikaalisyksyyn. Kummituksen luola, rouva Armfeldtin kartano ja tohtori Jekyllin laboratorio, täältä tullaan...

Lue kaikki oppituntini suomalaisesta (ja vähän ruotsalaisestakin) kesäteatterista:

Kesäteatterikesä 2014
Kesäteatterikesä 2015

Hatunnosto Pilkkuun asti -blogin Isalle bingoinspiraatiosta!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Fight from the Heart

Before I wrap up my Finnish summer theatre tour, I want to tell you about a musical I just saw. A musical that, to be honest, blew my mind.

I didn't understand a word of Rocky the Musical's Hamburg production. It's one of the most amazing theatrical performances I've ever experienced.

Rocky the musical is of course based on Rocky the movie, the classic film that features boxing and Sylvester Stallone. I have never watched the film. Visiting Hamburg with a friend, we went to see the musical adaptation because it stars Drew Sarich in the titular role. It was a simple decision: after a certain amount of Youtube videos featuring someone, you can't really skip the chance to see them live.

So. I expected to see a silly, over-the-top, loud and macho spectacle with no deeper meaning, all glitter and no substance, featuring an actor whose performance I would probably enjoy.

That's pretty much exactly how it was. And I loved it from literally the first second until the very end.

Seriously. From the first note, played loud enough to rid my mind of all unrelated thoughts, I knew I was going to have a great time. By the intermission, I was giggling with excitement. And the second act - training montage, Eye of the Tiger, audience members from the front rows being relocated onstage as the boxing ring was rolled into the auditorium... I felt like I was a part of the story, there to cheer Rocky Balboa to the victory, instead of watching a piece of musical theatre.

Sometimes you need a good dose of mindless entertainment. Rocky the musical is a first-class example of that. And the best part? I don't speak any German and therefore felt all this joy without understanding a word of what they said onstage. Actually, I am certain that had I understood the actors, I would have enjoyed the musical less.

Not knowing the language and only being familiar with a short synopsis of the story made me experience the show in a unique way. No analysing, no comparing, no getting distracted by any clunky rhymes. Just the music and the performances and the feelings they conveyed.

Combine that with the sheer spectacle of the production, the countless charmingly realistic and swiftly changing sets, the lights and the video screens, the flawless fight choreography that made me forget they're not boxing for real...

Wonderful. Refreshing. So much fun.

I don't think most musicals would work this well with such a huge language barrier. In most cases, I think it's better to familiarise yourself with a show before seeing it in a foreign language. But Rocky, with its simple storyline and strong feelings, with its loud music and bloodied noses... It felt so real, and at the same time it's one of the silliest, most overblown spectacles I've ever seen onstage.

I never would have thought I'd enjoy this show so much. A surprising, wonderful, borderline cathartic night to remember.

Photos by Morris Mac Matzen and Brinkhoff/Mögenburg.