Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Recap 2015

2015 has been a very theatrical year for me, more so than any previous one. I've worked (and continue to work) part-time in a theatre, with PR and marketing. I've of course also seen plenty of shows. I've gone further outside my comfort zone than ever before, and seen performances ranging from fantastic to less than impressive. It's been a very busy year with plenty of experiences to remember, so I thought to make a little list out of my personal highlights.

Listed, my top 5 theatrical experiences of 2015. In no particular order – but saving the best for the last.


Every year, we grow and change. Me and Rocky are a visible proof of that.

Had you told me in early 2015 that before the year is out, I would be counting Rocky as one of my favourite musicals and walking around in a Rocky hoodie... Beforehand, I thought there's no way on earth a boxing musical would be to my tastes. But what do you know. Seeing the show in Hamburg, it was love from the first note, and obsession by Eye of the Tiger. Fight from the heart!

Related reading: review, The Hoodie Story


I'm not especially big on Sondheim, but A Little Night Music has been a favourite of mine for years now. I'm very glad Tampereen Työväen Teatteri introduced this brilliant, clever musical to their repertoire. The production flows like a dream, it both touches me and makes me laugh every time – and by now, I've seen it four times. It's a joy to watch.

Related reading: review

The Curious Incident

This one was also Tampereen Työväen Teatteri's production. The reason it left such an impression is simple: as you often believe with favourite books, I thought I liked Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time so much no adaptation could ever compare. TTT's production proved me wrong. This fantastic play left me speechless both times I saw it.

Related reading: short review

Jekyll & Hyde

Reading this blog, you've probably noticed I've been thinking about Jekyll & Hyde the musical a lot this year. That's partially because I'm still excited about the first Finnish production that closed in 2014, but I've also the new Finnish production to be grateful for.

At first, I was wary of Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri's Jekyll & Hyde, but I've grown to enjoy the production with all my heart. It's clear the cast loves performing the show. With such love and such three-dimensional portrayals of the characters, the flawed musical turns into something special.

Related reading: review, interviews with Jekyll and Jekyll and Emma and Lucy

A Christmas Concert

So. All these brilliant shows, and it's Åbo Svenska Teater's Christmas concert that made the biggest impression of them all? But Siiri, you don't even like Christmas songs, you point out – and right you are, I borderline detest them. But let me explain.

If you're a friend or a long-time reader, you probably have an idea of what Åbo Svenska Teater's Les Misérables (2010–2012) means to me. In short, no other theatrical production has ever had such an impact on me. It was a near-perfect version of my all-time favourite musical, but that's not the only reason I have such fond memories of it. It also changed my life for the better. For example, ÅST's Les Mis is where I met two of my current best friends for the first time.

So, imagine this: you're sitting in Åbo Svenska Teater's auditorium with aforementioned friends, watching your favourite performers sing a Les Misérables medley that's – yes – dedicated to you... For a big fan of something, I don't think it gets any better than that. Four years after the last performance, me and my friends got one magical ÅST Les Mis moment more.

The Christmas concert of course also featured those dreaded Christmas songs. But Anna-Maria Hallgarn, Emma Klingenberg, Sören Lillkung and Alexander Lycke (last two of the ÅST Les Mis fame) are such fantastic performers that to me, whatever they sing is worth hearing.

A perfect finish to a busy year.

With this, I wish happy holidays and a fantastic new year to all of you. May 2016 be full of magical, theatrical moments for all of us!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jekyll & Jekyll – Interview with Doctors Jekyll and Misters Hyde

Huomio, suomalaiset lukijat: lue sama haastattelu suomeksi täällä!

In the current Finnish production of Jekyll & Hyde, two actors alternate in the titular roles. Henri Halkola and Joni Leponiemi treat audiences with two different interpretations of the musical’s main characters.

Where lies the difference in between Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde? In this interview, the duo shares their thoughts on their roles.

Henri Halkola and Joni Leponiemi say that, even though they knew the basics of the classic story coming in, they weren’t familiar with the musical before Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri’s production. Both fell in love with Frank Wildhorn’s music the first time they listened to it.

“The music enchanted me right away, and I think it’s the force that drives musical’s story forward. If you try to read Jekyll & Hyde the musical like you would read a straight play… Well, maybe musicals aren’t supposed to be read that way”, Halkola recalls his first impressions.

“The fans of this musical have a great taste in music, though”, he adds.

Leponiemi agrees.

“It was love from the first note. It’s also the first thing I considered when I thought about being cast in the role. Would I be able to sing these songs?”

The actors alternate in the leading roles, but in the rehearsals they worked together. Even so, their interpretations of Jekyll and Hyde are rather different.

“From the get-go, we decided that we’ll put our own spins to the characters. When rehearsing a role like this, you’ll have to keep an open mind and support each other – and that’s what we did”, Leponiemi tells about sharing the role.

“Even though Joni’s interpretation of the role doesn’t affect mine directly, it’s got to have some effect. The rehearsal period was short. We didn’t have time to develop our characters without taking some influence from each other”, Halkola continues.

“I think it’s good that the director and the choreographer didn’t have a very strong vision of the character –for example, they didn’t make Hyde move in a certain way. We got to try out different solutions and to develop them with the ensemble. But even so, the rehearsal period was too short”, Leponiemi adds.

Not a fairytale anymore

The musical’s Dr. Jekyll is very different from his counterpart in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella. In the book, Jekyll develops his soul-destroying formula for selfish reasons. In the musical, Dr. Jekyll wants to cure his mentally ill father. Jekyll comes up with a drug that he thinks will remove evil from the human nature.

Halkola and Leponiemi make a point that even with the addition of a mentally ill father, the musical’s Jekyll is hardly a selfless idealist.

“Jekyll is certainly not an unselfish character. His father’s condition is a driving force for him, but he also dreams of being remembered as one of the greatest scientist of all time”, Halkola says.

“Jekyll is afraid that he’ll inherit his father’s illness. And as a scientist, he is concerned about his own career. Trying to convince the hospital board to support his experiment, he comes up with grander and nobler reasons for it”, Leponiemi continues.

Dr. Jekyll’s experiment fails spectacularly and gives birth to his cruel alter ego, Edward Hyde.

“The formula affects Jekyll’s morale somehow. It shuts down whatever it is that stops us from acting upon all our whims. Jekyll starts to enjoy this feeling – he doesn’t have to be responsible for his actions or feel any pangs of conscience anymore”, Halkola describes his interpretation.

“All of us have a dark side. In different people, different things bring that darkness to the surface. When it comes to Jekyll, it’s formula HJ7 that does the trick”, Leponiemi adds.

In Stevenson’s novella, the formula even affects Jekyll’s looks. Many adaptations also alter the leading actor’s appearance – many musical productions for example give Jekyll and Hyde different hairstyles. In the Finnish production, the two characters are a lot closer to each other, both physically and mentally.

“We approach the story from a different angle than many other adaptations. Our starting point was that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. His behavior and his way of thinking change, but his personality is the same all the way through”, Halkola explains.

“In the very beginning, we decided that our version of the musical is not a fairytale. There is no respectable doctor and a monster in this story. Instead, good guys have their bad habits and bad guys have something good and compassionate in them”, he continues.

“Hyde is Jekyll’s left-hand man”, Leponiemi summarises the two characters.

Sympathy, tenderness

Jekyll & Hyde the musical introduces to women to Jekyll and Hyde’s story. Jekyll’s bride-to-be Emma and working girl Lucy bring out different sides of the main character.

“It’s an old cliché that behind every successful man there is a strong woman. I think that would be true in Jekyll and Emma’s case… But they don’t get the chance to make it so far”, Halkola says about Jekyll’s relationship to Emma.

“To Emma, it’s clear that Jekyll’s experiment is going to fail. But even so, she loves and respects him, so she also supports his project”, Leponiemi adds.

Jekyll’s engagement to Emma doesn’t stop Hyde from visiting Lucy’s bedroom.

“As Hyde, Jekyll gets to do what he wants, be with whoever he wants and however he likes. Lucy is a victim of his abuse. It’s a fascinating contrast how she falls in love with Jekyll at the same time”, Halkola says.

“Even though our Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, in Lucy’s eyes they are different”, Leponiemi continues.

Near the end of the show, Hyde murders Lucy. The musical’s script leaves the plot twist unexplained, offering no motivation for the crime. Halkola and Leponiemi have interpreted the scene in two different ways.

“Hyde has a feeling, humane side. He wants to love and to feel accepted. He thinks that maybe Lucy is a bold, daring woman who doesn’t care about good manners or the society’s expectations. Then he finds out that it’s actually the mild-mannered Jekyll Lucy has fallen in love with. In a way, Hyde starts feeling jealous”, Halkola explains his interpretation.

“Hyde wants Lucy to look at him with loving eyes, but there’s only fear in her eyes. That’s what pushes him over the edge.”

Leponiemi sees the scene in a different light.

“Hyde feels something positive towards Lucy. He however believes that love makes him weaker. Starting to feel compassion towards others would put an end to Hyde’s mission of killing the hypocrites who run the hospital. Hyde believes positive feelings cannot have a place in his heart, so he decides it’s better to put a stop to them.”

Terrified, but in a good way

Jekyll & Hyde the musical consists of 30 songs and lasts for almost three hours. Both leading men say that each performance is a new kind of journey.

“Every show is a new adventure. Beforehand, I often wonder what’s going to happen tonight and how the performance will be like. Each time, I’m terrified, but in a good way. How can I survive this?” Leponiemi shares his pre-show thoughts.

“Exactly. When am I going to make a mistake tonight? There are plenty of opportunities!” Halkola laughs.

“Feeling nervous like this keeps you awake. And in the end, it’s a good thing. I feel incredible after every performance”, Leponiemi says.

There are only 16 performances of Jekyll & Hyde left for Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri’s cast and crew. Both leads say that it’s easy for them to welcome new audiences to see the musical.

“We love performing this show. We believe we have an outstanding production of Jekyll & Hyde”, Leponiemi summarises the whole cast’s feelings.

Photos by Jiri Halttunen.
Read more: Standing by Dr. Jekyll’s Side – interview with Emma and Lucy

Monday, December 7, 2015

Standing by Dr. Jekyll’s Side – Interview with Emma and Lucy

Huomio, suomalaiset lukijat: lue sama haastattelu suomeksi täällä!

I like the new Finnish production of Jekyll & Hyde the musical better every time I see it. Each time watching the show, I also fall deeper in love with the leading ladies of Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri’s production. I have never encountered such a well-balanced, three-dimensional Emma/Lucy duo!

So, I had a little chat with Saara Jokiaho, who plays Emma, and Maria Lund, who plays Lucy. How do they breathe life into their characters?

Jekyll & Hyde the musical, book by Leslie Bricusse, introduces to two new female characters to a story originally told from male perspective. Emma Carew is Dr. Jekyll’s bride-to-be, an upper-class woman raised by her overprotective father. Lucy Harris is a songstress at The Red Rat, a working girl Mr. Hyde visits at night.

“Emma is a self-opinionated, modern young woman”, Saara Jokiaho summarizes her character.

Modern indeed encapsulates Emma’s thoughts and actions. She is also a brave, a little bit cynical realist”, co-star Maria Lund adds.

“Lucy is a fearless, romantic fool”, Lund characterizes her role.

“Lucy is strong and realistic, but her dreams of love show that there’s also a soft, vulnerable side to her. She has been hurt, and for a moment she gets to believe that love will heal her wounds”, Jokiaho says.

Lund wasn’t familiar with Jekyll & Hyde the musical before Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri’s production. For Jokiaho, the musical is an old favourite.

“I first listened to the musical in 2006 and I’ve been a fan ever since. In theatre school, I often sang Lucy’s songs. I even played the role in a shortened version of the show.”

In auditions for the Finnish production, Jokiaho and Lund auditioned for both Emma and Lucy. Jokiaho says that being cast as Emma gave her a lot to think about.

“When director Anssi Valtonen told me that I had been chosen as Emma, my first reaction was ‘oh no’. Will they give me a blonde wig and a Princess Diana style wedding dress to wear? What can I do with this part? Soon, I understood the role was more than just a girl in love with a boy. Emma’s first line is an insult towards Lady Beaconsfield! The role quickly became dear to me.”

Lund, in turn, was glad to notice how daring her role is.

“I have never had such a bold part. Lucy is a lot of fun to play! It’s also refreshing to act in a musical that doesn’t have a happy ending.”

Classic tale with a new point of view

Long-time Jekyll & Hyde fan Jokiaho says she feels annoyed by the way many productions of the musical treat Emma and Lucy.

“In all the productions I’ve seen, the ladies seem quite one-dimensional. Especially Emma. I sometimes feel irritated by the way she just sings and smiles, even though the story handles really heavy subjects”, Jokiaho explains.

When developing the first concept version of Jekyll & Hyde the musical, the creative team considered casting one actress to play both Emma and Lucy, just like one actor portrays both Jekyll and Hyde. Traces of this consideration remain in the musical today. Jekyll and Hyde represent two sides of man – and therefore two sides of the whole humankind. The duality of woman, then, is presented as two stereotypical extremes: the virtuous bride and the hooker with a heart of gold.

“I think that both I and Maria have made our characters more three-dimensional. Emma and Lucy no longer represent the two extremes of womanhood, there is also a lot of the other side in both characters”, Jokiaho muses on the stereotypic dichotomy.

“As a young actress, I’ve decided that each of my characters has to have a reason for being what they are. I refuse to be a damsel in distress”, she adds.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde doesn’t feature women. By adding two leading ladies, the musical gets to explore themes the original novel doesn’t mention. Both Emma and Lucy are strongly characterized by their love for Henry Jekyll.

“Emma is attracted to Jekyll’s passion for his work. It’s a characteristic that also enchants me in real life. Emma, in turn, brings joy to Jekyll’s life – and that brings them together”, Jokiaho describes her character.

“Lucy falls in love with Jekyll’s unexpected kindness. Jekyll is also a man who lets Lucy to lead the situation. With him, she doesn’t have to worry about the man making demands. But when it comes to Lucy’s relationship with Hyde, it’s Hyde who’s in charge”, Lund says.

When it comes to Lucy’s relationships with Jekyll and Hyde, the musical’s script leaves room for interpretation. When does Lucy realize the two men are actually one and the same? Lund reveals that her Lucy understands the truth when it’s literally too late.

“When Hyde comes to Lucy’s room and sings Sympathy, Tenderness, the song Lucy sang when visiting Dr. Jekyll earlier, she realizes what’s going on. She dies at the moment of that realization.”

Dr. Jekyll’s betrothed Emma finds out about her groom’s secret on the couple’s wedding day. The way Jokiaho interprets it, Emma is having suspicions well before the fatal wedding ceremony.

“After committing murders, a disoriented Jekyll encounters Emma in his laboratory. That’s when her suspicions are awakened. I think Emma doesn’t want to believe what she sees, but in the final scene, she is not surprised. Her worst fears turn out to be true.”

Even though Emma and Lucy sing In His Eyes together, the characters aren’t aware of each other. Lund and Jokiaho say that though their characters don’t meet, their performances have to strike a balance.

“If one of us approached her role with a lot subtler style than the other, the whole show would feel out of balance. In that sense, our interpretations of our characters affect each other”, Jokiaho says.


Pretend violence

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s tale is a classic horror story, complete with murders and bloodshed. Emma and Lucy are handed their fair share of Mr. Hyde’s cruelty, but that’s no problem for the actresses. Lund says that Lucy’s murder is her favourite scene.

“I have once committed suicide onstage, but this is my first murder. Of course you have to enjoy it, it’s a new experience”, Lund laughs.

“We thought over the murder for a long time. Would it be a knife in Lucy’s back, or would Hyde strangle her? I wished for a really brutal way to go, blood splatters and all, but what we ended up with is good too. I think being strangled and having my neck broken is a fine solution”, she adds.

In Jyväskylä, actors Henri Halkola and Joni Leponiemi alternate in the show’s leading roles. Some details in Jokiaho’s and Lund’s performances change along the leading man. One of these changes can be seen in the musical’s last scene.

“I especially enjoy Henri strangling me”, Jokiaho laughs.

“Joni is a lot gentler. He doesn’t dare to drag me around like Henri does, though his way is fine too. But Henri is such a big guy and has such a firm hold, you don’t really need to act there… There is of course no danger, it’s all pretend. That’s a lot fun, somehow!”

Both Lund and Jokiaho say that it’s always nice returning to Jekyll and Hyde’s London.

“I wouldn’t mind if we had more performances”, Lund says.

Jokiaho agrees.

“No matter how tired I am, I always have energy for this show. I can feel weary when I come to work, but when I put Emma’s jacket on, I’m transformed into a strong high society lady.”

Photos by Jiri Halttunen.
Read more: Jekyll & Jekyll – interview with doctors Jekyll and misters Hyde

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Jyväskylä Jekyll & Hyde, Take Two

I've already reviewed the new Finnish production of Jekyll & Hyde, but having now seen the production's alternate lead Joni Leponiemi and also another performance featuring Henri Halkola, I thought to write a short addendum to my critique.

I saw Joni Leponiemi as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde last weekend, and let me tell you – that was one of the most enjoyable performances of said roles I've ever seen! His take of the characters is very energetic and slightly over-the-top, especially as Hyde. I mean that in a good way: it's mostly a fun sort of over-the-topness, a style that suits this over-the-top musical.

I was especially impressed by Leponiemi's This Is the Moment. Usually, I lump the song in with every other overblown, overdone, overappreciated musical showstopper – Music of the Night, Bring Him Home, Don't Cry for Me, Argentina... A song where the plot comes to a halt so the lead can show off their vocals. But this time, This Is the Moment made me feel excited for the character and actually helped me to understand why Jekyll makes his disastrous decision. It's surprising how seldom that happens!

I also saw another performance with alternate lead Henri Halkola a while ago. His Jekyll is subtler and calmer than Leponiemi's, and though his performance is still not quite to my personal tastes, I enjoyed him better the second time around.

In my initial review, I mentioned not liking the second act very much. The second half of the show still drags, but I think it's mostly due to the script. In His Eyes and Dangerous Game are some of my least favourite Frank Wildhorn songs, and to hear them back to back... I can't help zoning out.

But it's gotten better. Halkola's Confrontation has become a lot easier to follow and more enjoyable, and Leponiemi's take of the song is powerful and impressive. The wedding scene, while still a bit too melodramatic even for a silly show such as this, is also more interesting to watch each time.

At first, I thought Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri's Jekyll & Hyde was nothing special, only a good production of a flawed musical. Now, I am starting to reconsider. I'm falling in love with the production more and more each time I see it.

I cannot wait to go back.

Photo by Jiri Halttunen
Muiden bloggareiden fiiliksiä: Paljon melua teatterista, Teatterikärpäsen puraisuja