Sunday, February 7, 2016

Helsinki Vampires

This is the new Finnish production of Tanz der Vampire reviewed from a fan's perspective. If you speak Finnish and wish to read a more concise review, you can read for example this, this or this

Please note: Helsingin kaupunginteatteri invited me to see Vampyyrien tanssi for free. 

Spoiler warning: major spoilers for the musical and the production.

I'm not a super hardcore Tanz der Vampire fan. I haven't seen any productions outside Finland and I don't really like watching bootlegs of the show. I don't find the movie the musical is based on especially interesting. But even so, Tanz der Vampire is one of my favourite musicals. I loved the first Finnish production, I think the music is fantastic, and the characters fascinate me.

So, from that point of view, let's discuss Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's Vampyyrien tanssi.

Tanz der Vampire parodies classic vampire stories (synopsis here, in case you're not familiar with it). The script offers possibilites for dark and deep interpretations, but Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's new production strongly emphasises the humorous aspects of the story. It's over-the-top, energetic, fast-paced and, above all, really funny. A non-replica production, it's got its own unique vibe and a lovely tongue-in-cheek tone.

Before I get started on the cast, I want to applaud the visual designers of the production: costume designer Elina Kolehmainen, set designers Jani Uljas and Jari Ijäs, lighting designer William Iles and the whole wigs and makeup team. They have turned the small and cramped Peacock Theatre into a detailed vampire world. The stage is small and there's apparently hardly any storage space, so every wall and staircase has multiple uses in the well thought-out set. Every vampire has their own look and personality.

There are some details I do not like in Markku Nenonen's direction and choreography, but as a whole, I think the show is extremely enjoyable and has a good flow all the way through. The orchestra, conducted by Eeva Kontu, sounds grand – the only thing that bothers me is the backing track they use for the Latin chorus in Carpe Noctem. I wonder if this production uses the same crummy one that's used on every cast recording of the show since 1997. At least the quality of the recording sounds as poor as always... Other than nitpicks, I think the show sounds great.

The production premiered on February 3rd. During the first week, I saw it three times. Next up, my thoughts on the production's two alternate casts.

Raili Raitala and Mikko Vihma

Count von Krolock: Mikko Vihma / Jonas Saari

Mikko Vihma is a good fit for the role of Count von Krolock: he looks, sounds and acts the part of an aristocratic vampire. He has a beautiful voice and enough charisma to send shivers down the audience's spines. Vihma's performance includes both menacing moments and a healthy dose of tongue in cheek, him wearing his glittering costume with confidence.

Jonas Saari's take on the Count, then, is rather subdued. His von Krolock starts out as a distant, almost gentle being, and he also sings the part surprisingly softly. The performance takes a sharp turn for the darker during the midnight ball – von Krolock's treatment of Sarah is even crueler than I expected.

I think Vihma's take on the character suits the tone of this production better. He's more over-the-top, with a stronger stage presence, and I also think he has stronger chemistry with his castmates. Saari's portrayal isn't without its merits and he gives me more food for thought, but ultimately I think his von Krolock would feel more at home in some darker, subtler production of the musical.

Raili Raitala

Sarah: Raili Raitala / Anna Victoria Eriksson

Raili Raitala played Sarah in Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri's production of the musical, and I liked her back then already. I still like her, though some nuances in her portrayal contradict my own interpretation of the character. Raitala's Sarah is very strong-minded and independent – I find her almost too cold and calculating. It feels to me she purely sees Alfred as a way out of her boring life. It's of course a valid interpretation, but I prefer Sarah to have a little bit more naïveté. Her fear and regret in the vampire ball, however, are heartbreaking to watch.

To me, Anna Victoria Eriksson's Sarah is as close to perfection as you can get. She makes the character more naïve and vulnerable than Raitala, yet without losing a bit of her willfulness. To her, Alfred is an okay guy, someone she might like hanging out with under different circumstances – it just happens that right now, the vampire count is more interesting. Personally, I prefer this interpretation of the character.

Vocally, you couldn't ask for anything better. They're both perfect.

Miiko Toiviainen

Alfred: Petrus Kähkönen / Miiko Toiviainen

I like both Alfreds a lot. Though the production heavily emphasises the funny moments, both Kähkönen and Toiviainen still manage to make Alfred deeply human. Both also sing the part beautifully, Kähkönen's take on Alfred's big solo Für Sarah is especially gorgeous. Judging by the applause, I think everyone in the audience shares my feelings.

Alfred is the everyman of the story, a young man that gets dragged along on an increasingly weird adventure. With these two portrayals, I feel the pieces click together by the end and you get the feeling Alfred has completed his character arc. It's hard to put that thought into words, but I enjoyed both performances and look forward to seeing them again so I can pay even closer attention to details.

Antti Timonen and Petrus Kähkönen

Professor Abronsius: Antti Timonen / Tuukka Leppänen

Ah, my heart!! Who even cares about the vampire count, I'm now a sworn member of Team Abronsius. Both Timonen and Leppänen blew me away with their hilarious, charming and energetic performances of the character. I didn't know I could like Abronsius quite this much!

I especially enjoy Alfred's moments with Professor Abronsius. Both Alfred & Abronsius duos are hilarious foils for Count von Krolock's evil (they somehow remind me of the 1960s TV series Batman and Robin). Both Professors have good chemistry with their respective Alfreds and plenty of laugh-out loud moments. In the performances I saw, team Timonen and Kähkönen shone especially brightly. I loved watching Kähkönen's Alfred getting more and more fed up with the Professor's antics, with Timonen's Abronsius either not getting it or simply not caring.

It seems to me the actors have fun in their roles, and in turn, their performances are plenty of fun to watch. I can't say which Abronsius I prefer, I find both of them equally amazing. I just wish to see both again as soon as possible!

Laura Alajääski and Risto Kaskilahti

Chagal: Risto Kaskilahti / Kari Mattila

Risto Kaskilahti tries so very hard to be funny and fails at every attempt. He hogs the spotlight in every scene he's in, making the character of Chagal feel annoying and out-of-place. Kaskilahti delivered a touching portrayal of Billy's Dad in Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's recent production of Billy Elliot. Shame none of that subtlety and good taste is left for this role.

Kari Mattila's Chagal, then, gets two thumbs up from me. He has some genuinely funny moments and makes the character surprisingly three-dimensional. This is the Chagal a good production such as this one deserves.

Rebecca: Leenamari Unho

Unho's Rebecca is, happily, not of the ugly hag type so many productions feature – instead, she's a rather charming sight with garlic decorating her hairdo. She gives a solid but not especially memorable performance of the character.

Sanna Majuri and Kari Mattila

Magda: Laura Alajääski / Sanna Majuri

I've written about the troubling aspects of Magda's character arc previously. In short: I think it's disturbing how the show first presents her as a victim of Chagal's unwanted advances and then makes her give in to him in the second act. I'm glad this production subverts some of the cringiest parts of the character's story.

Both Helsinki Magdas are spunky and strong-willed. When Magda and Chagal are turned into vampires, we see her berating him and showing him that it's she who's in charge. She befriends Herbert early on, inviting the vampires to rise from their graves together with him during Ewigkeit.

In short, this Magda is in charge of her own destiny, as much as it is possible without changing the script. Both Alajääski and Majuri also have beautiful, powerful voices. So I'm a fan!

Samuel Harjanne and Jonas Saari

Herbert: Samuel Harjanne

Harjanne's entrance as Herbert is one of the highlights of the first act. Never mind that he only spends something like 30 seconds onstage during the first act finale – he enters with such a grand swoosh of his cape that it's a sight to remember.

The second-act portion of the performance is good, but I don't think it's quite as memorable as the grand entrance. There is however an interestingly Frank-N-Furter-ish aspect to Herbert's character here, what with him wearing a glittery corset for his and Alfred's duet and getting it on with gentlemen and ladies alike during the course of the second act.

Overall, a fun yet not overly over-the-top version of the character.

Helsingin kaupunginteatteri's Vampyyrien tanssi ends with the Professor getting bitten and then learning the steps to the vampires' dance alongside the Count and all the other characters. I love love love that. At the same time, it's the ultimate antithesis to traditional happy endings with lofty morals – and a perfect feel-good finale.

If you're a vampire fan and are able to take a trip to Helsinki before April 27th, do it.

This production is worth it.

Photos by Mirka Kleemola.
Lue myös: Vampyyrien tanssin suomentaneen Marika Hakolan haastattelu


  1. Skimmed some parts of your text, but by what I read I'm waiting for this musical even more. Luckily I have tickets for Friday so it's not a long wait. Usually I don't see productions more than once (I applaud you supermusicalpeople who go again and again, wow!), but I might make an exception here just to see Eriksson whom I like very very much.

    Thank you, once again, for a well-thought post, I will be back to read this again after seeing the musical!

  2. If you had to decide which casting version is better, what would you say?

    1. That's a really tough question! I think both casts do such a great job that you're quaranteed a good performance no matter what – but if I had to recommend only one cast... I think I would go with Mikko Vihma & co., and I'm choosing that cast because of Mikko Vihma, too. I just liked his Count that much better.

  3. Very well thought-out writing!

    And for some odd reason I prefer the Vihma-cast too (funny that). Haven't seen Saari-cast yet though...