Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Berlin Vampires

So. After traveling 1,300+ kilometers for a musical we never got to see, we returned to Berlin and decided to do the next best thing – see Stage Entertainment's production of Tanz der Vampire in Theater des Westens.

Thank heavens for dancing vampires.

So far, I have only seen the two Finnish productions of Tanz der Vampire. Therefore, even though it's a replica of the 1997 original production, the Berlin Tanz – directed by The Fearless Vampire Killers director Roman Polanski – felt rather fresh to me. Something in the overall look and feel of the piece tells me the direction dates from way earlier than 2016, and in a different state of mind, I would probably have had more problems with it. But for a first-timer in emotional turmoil, it was all good.

For me, Kirill Zolygin's (u/s) Count von Krolock was the most fascinating performance in the show. His take was just so different from any of the Finnish von Krolocks I have seen so far. Thus, he opened my eyes to a whole new side of the character I have never seen in action before. Less passive and discreet, less melancholic, more bitter.

I don't know if alive is the right word to use when you're discussing vampires... So let's say Zolygin's Krolock is very active. It seems like he's in control of whatever situation he's in and has a good, at times almost exhilarating time seducing his victims to their deaths – until the moral hangover hits. Zolygin's Unstillbare Gier was the highlight of the show. The song was a journey through moments of sorrow, regret, self-hatred, disdain, sense of superiority and cold bitterness. Super fascinating to watch.

Professor Abronsius, played by Victor Petersen, was another interesting character to me. This version of the professor is, though determined, super old and frail. Alfred seems like 25% professional assistant, 75% geriatric nurse... But, compared his younger, more energetic and arrogant Finnish collegues, the Berlin professor is way easier to like. He's not a coward but an old man who, no matter how much he wants to, cannot hunt vampires with such vigor as he used to anymore. (Interestingly, judging by his photo in the programme, Petersen cannot be a day over 30 in real life.)

As a whole, the cast was good and evenly matched. Alfred (Tom van der Ven) and Sarah (Marina Maniglio, u/s) didn't really move me, but I quite enjoyed Merel Zeeman's spirited Magda, Sander van Wissen's (u/s) dangerous Herbert and Yvonne Köstler's surprisingly touching portrayal of Rebecca.

All in all, I had an amazing time.

The first act didn't really blow me away (it never does) but the second act just kept getting better and better. It was very nice to see moments I've watched on Youtube and seen in photos come to live. This staging also helped me to understand the charm of some scenes I haven't really been a fan of before. Ewigkeit, with the vampires rising from rows and rows of coffins, made a big, unexpected impression on me.

Some moments, on the other hand, were... comical. I couldn't help snickering, watching the Black Vampire dance his way to Dream Sarah's heart and throat during Carpe Noctem. Airbrushed abs and showy strutting around in tight tight leather pants. I've always thought Carpe Noctem is Alfred's own dream, I don't believe it's influenced by von Krolock – so the Count must've left quite an impression on our young hero the night before!

The prices for row 24 seats were high (70 € per ticket), but to the staging's credit, it must be noted it's enjoyable even from the very back. Usually, I like front rows better, but I feel this production might feel too in-your-face if you got really close. From my seat, the world of the vampires looked beautiful.

I saw Tanz der Vampire a day after experiencing the biggest disappointment in recent memory. I don't think any other musical would have felt quite as good in that moment as this.

Tanz is a very cynical story. The heroes all lose and the day is not saved – and everybody in the audience cheers. The title song is already my favourite musical finale, and this time, it felt extra amazing. I've listened to the German versions literally over a thousand times, and to hear it live in German for the first time after everything that had just happened... I hope you can imagine, since I don't think I can find proper words right now.

Thank you for the midnight ball that made everything better, von Krolocks and company.

Photos by Even Press.
Related reading: The story of the 1,300+ km disappointment

Monday, June 27, 2016

Jekyll & Hyde in Greifswald, Germany

Last April, I, Ida and Rami bought tickets to see Theater Vorpommern's outdoor production of the musical Jekyll & Hyde.

All three of us are big fans of the musical and also of the actor Chris Murray, who plays the titular roles in the production. So it didn't matter to us one bit that the show was staged in Greifswald, a small city in a faraway part of Northern Germany. Being as attached to the musical as we are, having seen video of Mr. Murray performing the role of Jekyll/Hyde, and then me and Ida seeing him live in Theater Pforzheim's Dracula, we knew the performance would be well worth the trouble.

This is the story of our trip to Greifswald last weekend.

Our flight to Berlin left Helsinki Airport early on Saturday morning. At 9 a.m., we were already enjoying a lovely breakfast on Berlin's Alexanderplatz, waiting for our bus to Greifswald to arrive.

We had booked our journey from a bus company called FlixBus MeinFernbus. We had heard they were prone to delays – but it's cheap and we have time to spare, so how bad can it be! We're talking of a three-hour drive and the bus is scheduled to depart at 10 a.m., while the musical begins at 7 p.m.. It's no problem if there's a little delay.

In the morning, we received a message informing us that our bus would be 40 minutes late. It's all good, we thought. We will still make it to Greifswald nice and early.

Our bus left Berlin's Alexanderplatz a full hour late, after additional 20 minutes of confusion over booked tickets.

It was a very hot day, with the temperature hitting 30 °C in the morning already. Due to the heat, a driveway out of Berlin had melted (!) so badly that we had to take a smaller road out of the city. We spent an hour in a traffic jam, found out we were actually making a detour to empty the bus' overflowing toilet (!!! !!!! !!), then started our way towards Greifswald in earnest.

After driving on the autobahn for a while, we came across a complete stop. An accident had blocked the road. 

By this point, I started to feel really worried we would miss Jekyll & Hyde simply because we will not get there in time.

We finally reached Greifswald at 4 p.m., three hours late of schedule.1

Me and Rami walking (!!!) on a German autobahn in 36 °C heat

We had made it to Greifswald, so everything was going to be okay now. Or so we hoped, but nature had something in store for us: a thunderstorm before the performance. We had been keeping a close eye on weather forecasts and knew a storm was on the charts.

Luckily the forecasts also promised us the storm would be over before showtime.

We found our pension, left our bags in our rooms and walked to the city centre – in pouring rain. We ate at a small kebab place, wishing for the storm to pass. And, just as the forecast had told us, the sky indeed started clearing around 6 p.m..

After finishing our meal, we walked to the outdoor stage. It had been a rather bad day so far, but now, we were in for a lovely night of theatre, for something that would make us forget all the trouble.

Approaching the stage, a lady standing in front of the box office caught our attention, telling us something in German.

"Is the show still on?", Rami asked her.
"No", the lady replied.

Just like that, it turned out we had traveled 1,300+ kilometers for a musical we would never see.

Just like that.

Our tickets were refunded, but I don't feel Theater Vorpommern's outdoor box office personnel treated us with the respect we (or any customer who has to face such a huge disappointment) would have deserved.

The stormy weather is of course no one's fault. But – even after hearing that we had travelled from Finland just for the show – the staff offered neither a word of explanation or any expression of compassion. A simple Is there anything we can do to help you? or We feel very sorry for you or maybe You can go drink a cup of coffee at the theater café; it's on us would have done wonders. No. Instead, they had the nerve of asking us for money when we asked if we could at least take some souvenir programmes with us.

That is no way to face someone who has travelled from another country for a cancelled performance.

The weather was completely fine by 7 p.m. and stayed fine until midnight.

Coming back to the pension at 10 p.m., none of us could figure out how to unlock the front door.2

Due to storm damage and a computer error, both our train back to Berlin and our flight back to Finland were late. In total, 15% of the duration of our two-day trip was spent sitting on various stations and vehicles being late.

Sun starting to set over Greifswald

There were two things that, in the end, made our trip worthwhile.

First is the star of the musical we never got to see. We messaged Mr. Murray about our experience right after leaving the theatre and he did something really sweet, just in the hopes that it would make us feel better: he left us a care package at the stage door of Theater Greifswald, complete with candy and musical CDs. 3

After the terrible day we had just had, receiving a gift like that brought tears to our eyes. Good tears. Everything felt so much... less horrible, all of a sudden.

A package of good feelings

Chris – once more, thank you. You're a superstar, on and off the stage. I want to let you know that on our flight home, we raised our glasses of airline coke and coffee and drank your toast at some 10,000 meters of altitude. At that moment, it was literally the highest honor we could come up with.

The second lifesaver of the trip is the musical Tanz der Vampire, currently running in Berlin's Theater des Westens.

I will write more about the German vampires later (edited to add: read my thoughts here). Now, I just want to say that I'm beyond grateful Tanz happened to be running in Berlin just now. As always with Stage Entertainment's productions, the tickets were super pricey (70 € for a stalls seat in row 24), but this time, the experience was worth every cent. I don't think any other musical would have helped me to forget my disappointment better than this one.

And that is the story of our Midsummer trip to see Jekyll & Hyde in Greifswald.

1 FlixBus MeinFernbus: avoid this company like the goddamn plague. The personnel's flippant attitude with no apologies about the delays whatsoever is reason enough. A wholly, thoroughly unpleasant ride, every delayed minute of it.
2 Pension Possehl: recommended with caution. The prices are rather affordable. The twin room upstairs was lovely, with a big balcony and good facilities. On the other hand, the single room in the basement was damp, moist and overall nasty, with a toilet that couldn't handle paper being flushed. Remember to bring your own soap and shampoo. Pay extremely close attention to how to unlock the front door.
3 My tirade about Theater Vorpommern's personnel only extends to the people who worked in the outdoor stage's box office. The gentleman guarding the theatre's stage door was nice and helpful when delivering Mr. Murray's gift to us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Frank Wildhorn.

The composer of musicals such as Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Dracula, Bonnie & Clyde... The composer I love to hate and hate to love. I rave about his musicals and watch them time and time again. I travel to foreign countries for them. And if you ask me, I will let you know that I detest them, loud and clear.

In this post, I try to explain what is going on with this love–hate relationship.

I've been a musical fan for about eight years. For most of that time, Frank Wildhorn's shows have had a place in my collection of cast recordings.

I can't even remember when I bought my first recordings of Jekyll & Hyde, Dracula and Rudolf, it's been such a long time. For years, though, I only enjoyed them as music. I popped the CDs into my player every now and them, hummed along Facade or Zu ende, but didn't ever bother finding out what the musicals are about. They were enjoyable showtunes for me, nothing more.

It was the closing of the first Finnish production of Jekyll & Hyde in 2014 that finally pushed me over the edge. Trying to fill the hole the production left, I delved deep into Wildhorn's work and actually started watching his musicals.

After marathoning through a slew of bootlegs, me and my friend compiled the bingo you can see above.

Frank Wildhorn has collaborated with multiple lyricists and writers. So how is it even possible all of his shows feature the exact same clichés and weaknesses? Whatever source material he works with will be mangled beyond recognition as the creative team removes layers of depth and characterisation to make way for a forced love triangle.

There is a lot to criticise when it comes to these shows, but my least favourite thing is Wildhorn's women.

Wildhorn's musicals aren't the only works of musical theatre that feature stereotypical portrayals of women. But the way these musicals depict ladies is especially egregious – all the women ever talk about is the leading man. Talented actresses often do wonders with the roles, but the material they have to work with... The character may be called Emma, Mina, Mary or Marguerite, but since all she does is pine after her man in a generic manner, it feels like we're seeing the same character again and again. Boo.

It's annoying how fond Wildhorn is of depicting love triangles. Whether it's a lady trapped in between a bad guy and a good guy, or a dude who gets to choose in between two shades of bland, Wildhorn's musicals are always certain to feature half a dozen boring love duets. So boring they're sometimes literally interchangeable in between musicals. (See: Only Love from The Scarlet Pimpernel / Only Love from Rudolf)

Lucy and Hyde ready to duet. Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri, 2015.
Photo by Jiri Halttunen.

Love duets aside, the music is the saving grace of these musicals. When Wildhorn's music is good, it's fantastic.

One of my favourite musical songs of all times is Alive from Jekyll & Hyde. You don't even have to listen to the words. The joy of being alive, the feeling of being Edward Hyde, is all there in the melody. Many of Wildhorn's faster-paced tunes are amazing like that: full of energy, telling us all about the character and their outlook on life. I love his energetic villain songs and rousing ensemble tunes. Sometimes, the whole score soars. Listen to Dracula for an hour and a half of perfection.

What's more, I often like the subjects Wildhorn picks. His musicals are oftentimes based on classic works of literature, on stories that are full of drama, memorable characters and fascinating themes. There are plenty of intriguing aspects to these musical adaptations, even if they often turn out a bit garbled.

For me, a part of the charm is imagining how the shows could be made better. There are plot holes and silly clichés, but often, it seems like just removing a song or adding a line or two of dialogue could do wonders. The scripts of many Wildhorn shows have indeed been edited multiple times. With five or six script editions out there, Jekyll & Hyde has been work in progress for the past 30 years.

But even without rewrites, there is so much potential to these musicals. If the cast and crew really put their hearts to it, almost any Wildhorn musical's positive qualities can and will outshine the bad. (I say almost – I'm unsure if Rudolf can ever be salvaged.)

Sometimes, actors and directors can make inventive decisions that lift their production way above the source material and really make you think. See, for example, my review of the recent Danish production of Jekyll & Hyde. With imagination, the gothic fairy tale was turned into a haunting exploration of cause and effect.

For a production like that, I'll sit through a hundred of those boring love duets.

Mina and Dracula ready to duet. Theater Pforzheim, 2012.
Photo originally from the theatre's Facebook.

My least favourite Frank Wildhorn musical is Rudolf – Affaire Mayerling. It's awful, depicting double suicide as the height of romance. Focusing on Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria's death that is also portrayed in the 1992 hit musical Elisabeth, Rudolf (2006) seems like an attempt to cash in on the earlier musical's success. The plot is distasteful, historically inaccurate and illogical. As fellow blogger Laura puts it, this musical sucks.

And yet, and yet... I haven't one but two dream casts for Rudolf, all depending on the turns my imaginary direction takes. I can't stop thinking which of my favourite actors would be perfect for the musical's roles.

Rudolf's music is gorgeous, and despite (or because of?) all its awfulness, it's so much fun thinking of how the show could potentially be improved. I sincerely hope no theatre in a thousand-mile radius as much as thinks of producing the musical. Yet in my heart I know if it ever comes to that, I won't hesitate boarding a plane and flying to any of the neighbouring countries to see the musical's Nordic premiere. 

And indeed, the best thing about being into Wildhorn's musicals is that they take me on adventures.

Sometimes, literal adventures: soon, I've traveled to Germany twice to see them. Sometimes, they brighten up my life in other ways: I have first encountered some of my all-time favourite actors via Wildhorn's musicals. What's more, the shows are such a fun subject to diss and discuss with likeminded friends, to dreamcast and to speculate about, to blog and to draw fanart about. It feels so good to be passionate about something.

For me, despite all their faults, these musicals are inspiring.

Two women duet about loving a man. Bingo!
Det Ny Teater, 2016. Photo by Miklos Szabo.

I still haven't listened to all of Wildhorn's recorded musicals.

When it's good, it's brilliant, but a little of Wildhorn usually goes a long way. So I'm saving treats such as the demo recording of Svengali and whatever Sound of Music decides to add to their Frank Wildhorn shop next for the right moment. It's a special sort of mood I need to be in when delving into a new Wildhorn show, a mix of excitement and calm, curiosity and patience.

When I have familiarised myself with a new show, however, I tend to listen to it lots. So, to finish off this blog entry, I've compiled a little playlist of my Wildhorn favourites for you.

Ranging from unironically gorgeous to nonsensical-yet-entertaining, from pure musical perfection to awful-in-content-but-beautiful-in-tune, each of the songs on the list has some quality that I admire in Wildhorn's work.

Starting here:

I want to end with two questions to all readers who are familiar with Frank Wildhorn's work.  

What are your favourite Wildhorn musicals and songs? Do you have some show or tune you (love to) hate?  

Please share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Related reading: My Top 5 Frank Wildhorn Disappointments, The Beginnings of Jekyll & Hyde

Monday, June 20, 2016

Upcoming up North

The summer and autumn of 2016 will bring many interesting musicals to Northern European stages. At the moment, I'm planning on seeing three productions outside of Finland. Beginning this Saturday, it's time to travel to see...

Jekyll & Hyde // Theater Vorpommern, Greifswald, Germany

Photo by Vincent Leifer

Based on a video bootleg and seeing him live in Dracula a year and a half ago, I made a promise: if Chris Murray ever plays the title roles in Jekyll & Hyde again, I will be there to witness it.

Guess what.

Theater Vorpommern's Jekyll & Hyde will be performed outdoors. As is always the case with Frank Wildhorn's musicals, going in, you don't really know what you're going to get. Which edition of the script will the production feature, which songs are we going to hear? Who knows. But I'm curious to find out. Based on the photos I've seen, this production looks like a lot of fun. Also, if Chris Murray is half as amazing as he's on the video from the 2008 Dresden production of J&H, his performance is going to be breathtaking.

And whatever the show will be like, watching a favourite musical outdoors on a midsummer night, with friends with you in the audience and a favourite actor onstage, will certainly be a night to remember.

Les Misérables // Wermland Opera, Karlstad, Sweden

Photo by Mats Bäcker

In July, it's Les Misérables time for me.
It's been two years since I last saw Les Misérables. It's the longest time I've been without live Les Mis since becoming a fan in 2010. So I'd say it's about time. I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing the show in Wermland Opera – though not because of the cast, or the direction, or any other detail specific to this production. Above all, I just want to spend a night with Jean Valjean, Javert, Cosette and all the others again.

I guess Wermland Opera's Les Mis is going to be an emotional experience. Hearing Les Misérables sung in Swedish, and performed in an old theatre that looks a lot like Åbo Svenska Teater... As long-time readers know, the 2010–12 Fenno-Swedish Les Mis is my all-time favourite musical production. Hearing the show in Swedish will always be extra special for me.

Listen to them sing the song of my heart:

Klokkeren fra Notre Dame // Fredericia Teater, Fredericia, Denmark

 I have been waiting to see this musical for over five years.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is my favourite Disney movie. In 1999, three years after the movie, a stage adaptation called Der Glöckner von Notre Dame premiered in Berlin. Ever since finding out the musical exists, I have been obsessing over it and wishing it would be revived.

After its initial three-year run, Hunchback the musical disappeared for a decade. Despite wishing for its return, I didn't really believe it would ever come back. The Hunchback is one of Disney's darkest animated movies, and the musical is even darker. I thought they had forgotten about it for good – I just didn't see it following The Little Mermaid and Aladdin in Disney Theatrical Group's plans.

So you can imagine how I felt like, reading the news of The Hunchback's 2014 American premiere, and then listening to the brand-new English-language cast recording. And now the revived, revised Hunchback has found its way to Europe, premiering in Denmark in the autumn of 2016!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame has everything I want to see in a musical. It's dramatic, tragic, historical, huge. Alan Menken's score, composed of songs featured in the movie and new material written for the stage, is one of my all-time favourites. I also appreciate how the musical brings the story closer to Victor Hugo's original tale. There are no comic relief gargoyles here. It's a solemn, dark, upsetting adaptation I believe Hugo would approve of.

I feel like tearing up each time I listen to The Hunchbacks' first act finale, Esmeralda. I can't even imagine how it will feel like, finally watching the musical live. I get chills just thinking about sitting in the theatre. I don't remember the last time I've waited for a musical production this eagerly. This year, October can't come early enough.

But first, Germany and Sweden, here I come!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Magic, Titles, Merits and Ethics

Last month, someone found their way to this blog via an intriguing Google search.

In your opinion, what makes theatre magic, and how can the role you are applying for make a difference?

Thank you for asking.

What makes theatre magic?

It’s completely unrealistic and perfectly real at the same time.

Theatre is so fake. Sitting in a dark room, pretending a cardboard wall is a castle and the actor who played a beggar two scenes ago is now a princess... But at the same time, it's the most tangible, real form of storytelling there is. Real live people act out a story for other real live people, right in front of each other, with no edits or retakes. And with feelings so real you forget what you're seeing is not real at all.

How can the role you are applying for make a difference?

There are no small roles, if you put your heart into what you are doing. Try to make your character human, to give the audience something they can relate to.

In my experience, it can be the smallest of details in the most unexpected of performances that makes you smile, makes you think, makes you feel. And if you manage to touch even one person in the audience, or make one of them laugh, you have already made a difference.

I think, however, that if you really want the role, you should write your application essay all by yourself.

New Blog Title

So! Maybe you've noticed it already that my blog has just gotten a new title. From now on, Some Superfluous Opinions will be known as Theatrically Speaking.

Some Superfluous Opinions is a terrible name for a theatre blog, really. I chose it before I decided I would blog exclusively about theatre. The blog's subject quickly shifted... and now, almost six years later, it's at long long last time to change the title, too. I believe Theatrically Speaking is easier to remember and reflects the content of this blog way better than the old title.

From now on, the address of this blog is theatricallyspeaking.com. Old links starting with somesuperfluousopinions.blogspot.com also redirect to this blog.

Top 10 Blog

In other news, I received some news last week that made me very happy. Cision published a list of Top 10 Finnish Culture Related Blogs. And guess what? I'm both number 7 and number 9!

This blog, Theatrically Speaking (on the list, still known as Some Superfluous Opinions) is number 7. That's all thanks to you, dear followers – thank you for reading, commenting and sharing. You have my gratitude.

What's more, my Tumblr-based side project Fuck Yeah, Finnish Musical Theatre! is number 9.

That is also very exciting to hear. I founded the Tumblr blog in April 2012 and it has been updated daily ever since. You can browse 2,700+ musical-related photos, videos, fanworks, links and pieces of news, all tagged with the featured musicals, actors and theatres for easy searching.

I put a lot of work into my theatre blogs – so I'm really proud both of them made the list. Thanks!

Blogging Ethics

One thing more. I thought this would be a perfect chance to pay some attention to the ethical transparency of my blogging.

As I have mentioned previously, I work in Turun kaupunginteatteri's (Turku City Theatre) marketing and PR department – and my contract has just been renewed.

So I'd like to make the following decision clear: as long as my employment in the theatre lasts, I will refrain from writing about Turun kaupunginteatteri's and other Turku-based professional, Finnish-speaking theatres' current and upcoming productions in this blog. I think that's fair, both towards the theatres and the people who read my blog.

Read the full disclaimer in English and in Finnish here.

With that, onwards toward new blogging adventures!