Friday, December 28, 2018

Tenth Anniversary

It has been ten years since I fell in love with musical theatre.

I've been trying to find a way to celebrate the milestone, if you can call it that, here on my blog – but as of late (and as I wrote in my previous Finnish post), the weight of the whole world has been pushing down on my shoulders so heavily that I haven't been able to mark such a happy, frivolous occasion.

But just now, I figured out what I want to write about.

I want to show you all what being a musical fan means to me. So, for this blog post, I'm inviting you to step into my shoes. In this post, you are me.

Let's step a while back in time and go see a musical.

You've travelled to see musicals many times before, but planning a new trip is always a pain. When travelling with friends, you always take on the role of a tour operator, and though you're very good at looking up schedules and searching for cheap hotel rooms with breakfast included, it's still just as annoying every time.

Except for this time, it's even worse! You've bought your musical tickets well in advance but decided to look for a hotel later... and now, searching for accommodation, it turns out everything's sold out. There's some touring musician visiting the town's arena the same night you're going to see the musical performance, so every single hotel, hostel and Airbnb is fully booked. There are no trains and no buses out of town after the show, either, so it seems you're stuck – until, by pure luck, you find there are still exactly three beds available that night.

Two in a cheap hostel room, and one in the distinguished Grand Hôtel next door, with twice the price.

You curse a little in front of your computer screen but place the bookings.

Now that that's settled, it's time to travel.


You don't have to go to the ends of the earth for your musical adventure (and as of late, heaven knows you've been wondering if any travel for pleasure can be considered moral while the ice caps are melting), but a little distance helps to make the occasion a little more special.

This time, you're going to a theatre in a mid-sized town in the neighbouring country. It's not a tourist destination by any means, but you're certainly not going to pass for a local, seeing you're not fluent in the language. You can understand a lot of what's being said, but when it comes to talking, despite taking lessons, ordering a burger and a coke to go with it is as far as your skills go. When it comes to the musical, though, the language is not a problem. You are going to see a piece you're very familiar with already.

You'll be taking the overnight ferry, and two of your good friends are coming with you.

On the ferry, you talk about pointless things – nothing too deep, and as of yet, nothing about the musical you're going to see either. Instead, it's mostly particularly silly chatter about a recent movie. Grabbing a bite at the ship cafeteria and talking nonsense, you're feeling all light and nice.

You've done it before, but even so, a trip like this is always a special thing. Something a little out of the ordinary.

You have some trouble falling asleep, chatting with your friends for half the night first and then the movement of the ship keeping you awake for the other half. Mercilessly, the ferry still docks at 6:30 AM.

It's a December morning, and it's a northern part of the world, so it's not going to be light for quite a while. Still, you trudge through the dark city, eat breakfast at that one café that's open at such an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning, and then all three of you fall asleep when your bus leaves the station.

In three or four hours, you reach your destination. It's all grey and rainy. You already know the town, seeing you've been there some months prior to see the exact same musical you're about to see tonight. Your traveling companions might have different reasons for coming back, but for you, it's a combination of love for the musical, love for this particular direction and love for the leading actor. Even before seeing it the first time, you knew that with this production, just once wouldn't do.

You check into your hotels, you in the Grand Hôtel and your friends at the hostel. A part selfish, part self-sacrificing move to pick the fancy but lonely room for yourself. Soon enough, though, all three of you gather in the compact single room to chill and to plan the evening.

It's starting to feel a little exciting. It is after all your favourite musical.

You don't go sightseeing. Instead, you just hang around at the hotel for a bit and then have a meal at a quiet restaurant. Or not so quiet, not anymore after the three of you enter! The food is good, there's lots of laughter, it's already dark outside again. It's all such a nice, warm feeling – and the best still lies ahead.

Walking to the theatre, you really feel a tiny little bit happier with each step, a little like you're about to open a present soon. No other musical but this one can make you feel such a special shade of anticipation.


You find your seat in the front row, the lights go down, and then, it's just three hours of love.

You know everything that's going to happen, every scene, every note, even most of the particular translation they're using... but even so, and just because of that, it still carries you away. It's not a happy story, but it's a familiar one, one that takes you on a cathartic emotional journey every time.

In short, this musical feels like home. Some productions more than others, sure – but this one is very much to your tastes and feels very much right.

A big part of the warm feeling stems from an earlier production that was very dear to you, a production you saw again and again that holds a thousand happy memories for you. This production is in the same language and features the same leading actor (that's something you've been hoping would happen ever since the production you loved closed, and you couldn't be happier about it), so it feels especially familiar, safe and good.

It's not only about nostalgia, though. You love seeing what just this combination of artists can do with the material, being surprised by details in their interpretations and the way the actors' performances have grown since the premiere. You love experiencing the story retold, same but different every time.

Sometimes, you think you're going to stop seeing this musical for good when the finale doesn't raise your heart rate anymore. Tonight is not that night. Hearing the last notes, there's again that familiar feeling of your heart beating faster. You feel at home. Your heart is happy.


After the show, you stagedoor a bit. In these northern parts of the world, it's not a common thing to do (and you'd be lying, claiming you're a very spontaneous person), so instead of popping up all spontaneously, you've let the lead know you're going to be there ahead of time. Sure enough, you meet him and some others and have a little chat. Afterwards, then, it's time to go back to Grand Hôtel with your friends, hang out in the little room and talk, talk, talk about what you just saw and what you thought about everything.

Next day, it's the same but backwards: waking up too early, leaving the town in a hurry, taking the ferry back home. Maybe seeing another musical on your way out, who knows – but that's already a different story.

Nevertheless, it's been a very good weekend.

This story is of course not all there is to being a musical fan. It's just about one aspect of it that I hold dear to my heart. Maybe the previous – and future! – entries in this blog will tell you about the rest.

No other medium speaks to me quite like musical theatre does. It gives me a lot. It connects me with other people, friends and performers and fellow audience members all in a host of different ways. It gives me stories and characters and songs to reflect on.

At its very best, it gives me a way of reaching another reality, if only for a few hours at a time.

It has been said that a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. I believe that one who goes to theatre gets to live more than one, too.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Pieni kirjoitus maailmanlopusta

Viime aikoina maailma on tuntunut tavattoman pelottavalta paikalta olla ja elää.

Tulevaisuus on syöksykierteessä. Maailmanloppu – ilmastonmuutoksen, fasismin, maailmansodan, antibioottiresistanssin, nälänhädän, sukupuuttoaallon, tekoälyn ja/tai ydintuhon siivittämänä, valitse ihan rauhassa oma suosikkisi – odottaa joka nurkan takana. Kaikki on jo menetetty, mutta uusia tuomiopäivän ennustuksia riittää silti joka päivän uutisvirtaan.

Huonojen uutisten tuiskussa on vaikeaa olla ottamatta koko ihmiskunnan murheita omille harteilleen. Miten tässä on tarkoitus pysyä järjissään, toimintakykyisenä ja vieläpä hyvillä mielin, kun globaalin yhteiskunnan ennustetaan romahtavan ennen oman eliniänodotteen täyttymistä?

En tiedä teistä, mutta näitä on viime viikkoina tullut mietittyä.

Näitä ja sitä, onko tulevasta tuhosta tietoisena mitään järkeä jatkaa musikaaleista puhumista ja niistä innostumista, jos ja kun kaikki ympärillä syttyy tuleen.


Pessimismiin on petollisen helppo vajota ja sen kuristusotteesta on pirullisen vaikeaa räpistellä irti. Olen kuitenkin pohdinnassani päätynyt siihen, että tuli mitä tuli, taiteesta on pidettävä kiinni.

Oletetaan, että uskonnot ovat väärässä ja tämä elämä on ainoamme, toista tilaisuutta tai parempaa tuonpuoleista ei tule. Oletetaan, että pahimmat ennustukset ovat oikeassa ja olemme jo tuhonneet kotiplaneettamme.

Tuhonkin alla voimme kai käyttää oman ainutkertaisen hetkemme elämää, iloa ja taidetta juhlistaen.

En tarkoita, että heitetään porukalla kirveet kaivoon ja pidetään maailmanlopun orgiat. Mielestäni jokaisen on päivittäin tehtävä voitavansa luonnon suojelemiseksi ja sitä myöten kanssaihmisten kärsimyksen vähentämiseksi. Kokataan kasvisruokaa, asennetaan aurinkopaneelit, jätetään lennot lentämättä ja äänestetään taivaan tähden kevään vaaleissa ehdokkaita, jotka pakottavat meidät kaikki lainsäädännön keinoin hillitsemään itseämme ja olemistamme.

Ja tehdään ja nautitaan taidetta.

Uskon ihan tosissani, että taide kaikissa muodoissaan on parasta, mitä ihmiskunnalla on. Olemme saaneet aikaan loputtomasti pahaa, mutta onneksemme myös liki äärettömästi hienoa ja kaunista. Teimmepä sitä itse tai nautimmepa siitä toisten tekemänä, ehkä taide voi antaa meille jotakin sellaista – toivoa, inspiraatiota, jaksamista pitää pelko aisoissa tai ihan yksinkertaisesti iloa – joka auttaa meitä kaikesta huolimatta eteenpäin.

Siksi teatteri. Siksi musikaalit. Siksi sydämen avaaminen katsomosta käsin ja ääninauhurin heiluttelu lämpiöissä nytkin, kun päivittäin ihan tosissaan pelottaa, ettei seuraavalla sukupolvella enää ole tulevaisuutta.

Jos pahimman vaihtoehdon sijaan toteutuukin jokin parempi ja heillä on, ehkä he ovat meille kiitollisia edes siitä, että pidimme taiteen elossa.

Muille vaihtoehdoille lienee turhaa antaa mielessään liian suurta tilaa.

Eläköön siis taide ja eläköön Thalia. Nyt – ja ikuisesti.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Chess på svenska

Please note: Svenska Teatern invited me to see their production of Chess for free.

This is the autumn many Finnish musical fans have been waiting for! Finally, we have Finland's very first staged production of Chess the musical – the matter-of-factly called Chess på svenska ("Chess in Swedish"), produced by Svenska Teatern, Finland's Swedish-speaking national stage.

Alexander Lycke as Anatoly and Maria Ylipää as Florence

Chess is an 80s musical by Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. It uses a world championship game of chess as a metaphor for Cold War, which, in turn, it contrasts with romantic relationships. It's one of those musicals the creative team cannot stop tweaking. There have been at least four different major editions of the script since the 1986 premiere, so going in, you never quite know who's winning and who's losing... The script Svenska Teatern uses was adapted by Lars Rudolfsson and premiered in Stockholm in 2002, and in Helsinki, it's directed by Maria Sid.

I'll admit it right away that when it comes to the plot (or plots) of this musical, I'm no expert. I know the basics – it's the US versus USSR... – but I don't have a grasp of the variations of each specific version. To be quite honest, I've always found the synopses for most versions, with their secret agents and murky politic deals, a bit too complicated and dense for my tastes.

Chess på svenska takes things to the other extreme. This version is not about politics at all. Instead, it's a tragic little love triangle with some international intrigue as a backdrop, taking place within the span of only four days. American chess champion Freddie and his second Florence are a couple and the Russian champion Anatoly has his wife Svetlana waiting for him back in Moscow, but things take quite a turn when Florence and Anatoly meet each other...

I'm not saying focusing on the romance is necessarily a bad thing. I've said it before that I'm not into romance at all unless everyone involved gets their heart broken by the end, so this is actually right up my alley!

I think Chess på svenska is a lovely, very bittersweet love story. I'm a big fan of the movie Titanic, and this story is rather similar. An unlikely couple only gets to spend a few days together, but that's enough for them to fall in love, and then a cruel twist of fate tears them apart.

The chess tournament, taking place in a remote Italian town, is a liminal space of sorts. For four consecutive days, the characters are removed from their everyday realities and brought to a faraway place where, for a brief moment, it seems like anything can happen. The characters don't get happy endings, but the experience forces them to see their whole life from a different perspective and to take a different path than the one they've been following previously.

I think that's a very interesting scenario. The rushed love story in Chess hardly feels realistic, but at the same time, who's to say it couldn't happen?

Chess på svenska is way too heavy on ballads (there's like five of them in a row in the second act) and it sort of feels like they've included some of the most famous songs because they're so famous you cannot not include them (neither Anthem nor I Know Him So Well feel all that plot-relevant here, really). Maybe some other edition of the script would have a smoother flow and be more interesting to watch.

But for what it is, this version of Chess is musical theatre of the very first class.

Silva Lillrank as the Arbiter

I'll list my favourite things about this production at the end of this post, but first, I want to talk about gender for a while. One of the selling points of this production, you see, is that the role of the Arbiter is played by a woman, Silva Lillrank.

I've always loved the character of the Arbiter, the no-nonsense referee of the chess championship. I like characters like that, ones that you don't really get a hold of. Being a chess arbiter must be the least exciting job imaginable, and yet, this character sings one of the catchiest and most upbeat songs in the whole show. He (or she, or they?) arrives from out of the blue, lays down the law and soon finds out no one listened – there's no character arc or resolution, but the song kicks butt and gives the audience a nice breather before the intense chess match.

Over the years, the Arbiter has been interpreted in countless weird ways, including a bearded space warrior and a pair of twins. Considering that, it's more sad than anything that a woman playing the role in a major production is still newsworthy in 2018... The important thing, though, is that Lillrank is fantastic in the role. The Arbiter's song (here, sung and performed all by women) is one of the highlights of the whole production. I can't help it, it feels so good seeing fellow women taking on a leading position onstage and delivering a kickass song!

In an interview with Musikaalimatkassa, the musical podcast I co-host (in Finnish), director Maria Sid mentions that she thought about making one of the chess players a woman too. Ultimately, she decided that since it's the first time Chess has ever been staged in Finland, she doesn't yet want to change too much. I hope someday, someone does. I think any of these characters could be any of us, and therefore they could be of any gender, too. I believe it would give the story an interesting spin if it were, say, Avrora Sergievskaya falling in love with Florence...

And now, the highlights list.

  • There's not a single detail here that hasn't been thoroughly thought out by director Maria Sid. You might not agree with all of her choices, but you can feel she has a well-founded reason for each one.
  • Maria Ylipää as Florence, period. First and foremost, this production is Florence's story, and Ylipää's performance feels so natural. She quite simply fits the role perfectly.
  • Anthem, sung by Alexander Lycke (a long-time favourite of mine, of Les Mis and Jesus Christ Superstar fame). Heck, I don't care if the song's a bit shoehorned in here – this is such a powerful rendition it already made me tear up during an open rehearsal the theatre hosted before the premiere. This can't be done any better.
  • I feel for Freddie, performed by Glenn Edell! He's very fun to watch, until suddenly, he's very much not. A tough, annoying guy who's secretly all sad inside, what's not to like?
  • Johanna Ström (Svetlana) has such a gorgeous voice, I really can't describe it. Shame Svetlana is such a small role!
  • The second act features some really beautiful choreography for Florence and Anatoly. I'm no expert when it comes to dancing, but Carl Knif's whole choreography feels very well-thought-out and fresh.
  • Overall, it's a really, really beautiful production. If the ballads sometimes feel a bit too much, you can always zone out and simply enjoy the visuals for a moment.
  • The music, the music, the music!! Music-wise, Chess has always been one of my top three favourite musicals. I can't get enough of the tunes (seriously – listening to a Chess cast recording as I write these very words), and I'm sure I'll be seeing the show again and again just to enjoy them. It's all sung and played so well and the acoustics and sound system in Svenska Teatern compliment it perfectly, it's heaven in my ears.
  • I like how all the characters feel very three-dimensional and, for a lack of a better word, adult. I think that makes the love stories more interesting. No fairytale musical romances like Cosette and Marius's or Christine and Raoul's here! Instead, you have dark undertones and a big range of emotions, I love that.

All in all, it's been a long while since I last felt this excited, this good about a Finnish musical production. Long live well-crafted musical theatre!

Photos by Cata Portin.
P.S. Ny Tid's Janne Wass said it all so much better than I ever could. Read his thorough review (in Swedish).

Friday, July 20, 2018

Norr in Bergen

As you can clearly tell by looking at this blog's archive, as of late, my life has been lacking in inspiring theatre.

Whatever was on in Finland during the first half of 2018 didn't really strike a chord with me, and the Finnish summer theatre season, with its traditional abundance of light plots and distasteful jokes accentuated with an occasional naked behind... It's just not what I'm looking for right now. Thus, no theatre for me for several months.

Not good.

Luckily, vikings came to my rescue! I just spent a couple of weeks in Norway, and in Bergen, I came across Norr – Da gudene breaket, a Norse mythology themed co-production by the Norwegian breakdance crew Absence and the Bergen-based theatre Den Nationale Scene.

I was enthralled.

Beforehand, I knew nothing about either breakdancing or Norse mythology. To be honest, I also didn't expect much.

Outside the theatre, the production was boldly advertised as "Norway's most extraordinary viking show", which sounded a little too good to be true. Judging by the hyperbole-laden posters alone, I was slightly afraid it might turn out to be a tastless cash grab designed to draw in viking-crazed tourists – but having been without theatre for so long and simply wishing to see something, I took the chance and bought a ticket.

Of course, it quickly turned out that the show truely is extraordinary.

In Norr, six dancers (Andreas Roksvåg, Piero Issa, Christopher Bottolfsen, Daniel Grindeland, Halvard Haldorsen and Ole Petter Knarvik) play mythological figures such as Odin, Thor and Loki. The one-hour-show follows the fates of the Norse gods from the creation of the universe to its violent destruction, showing us vignettes based on different tales, all told via breakdancing.

Inspired by the show, I spent the journey back to Finland reading about Norse mythology online, but I don't yet know enough about it to say if this is an accurate interpretation of the tales or not. What I can say, though, is that I think the intense Nordic myths and the energetic, powerful language of breakdance are a perfect fit.

In Norr, gods travel across different realms of the cosmos, battling mythical creatures as they go. The show features some rather melodramatic narration (apparently adapted from original old Norse poems) and more light-hearted dialogue – in English, so it's very tourist-friendly.

The sets by Hans Petter Harboe are rather minimal and designed with the choreography in mind, but a series of nice comic book style projections (illustrations by GUNDSGN Design, animated by Wirat Johannessen / Neolab by Knowit) helps to set different scenes and spaces apart. Here and there, the illustrations and the narration are combined in the form of fun RPG stats screens, presenting our heroes' personalities and skills and showing their stat points in attributes such as strenght, balance, IQ...

The music (by Tomtom Studio, Dj Embee, Jonathan Sigsworth, Haakon Lund, Canardus Horribilis and Hans Einar Appeland) and the lights (by Einar Bjarkø) mix with the movement just right, so well they create a couple of moments where time seems to slow down a little. Or maybe that was the overwhelming effect of seeing breakdancing live for the first time!

I'm seriously in awe, thinking back to the talent of the dancers. They create fun characters – my favourites were Grindeland and Issa as brothers Thor and Baldr, one as brash and boisterous as the other is sweet and loving. It's a really good show for a breakdance novice like me, the characters and the stories are entertaining and the movement is truely impressive. My mouth was really left hanging open by some of the tricks.

Thor high-fiving a valiant mortal.

Norr has been playing since 2015, so even though the summer 2018 performances are almost over (last show July 22th), maybe you can catch it sometime in the future if you happen to be visiting Bergen. Or something else by Abscence Crew, I'm sure their other performances are equally impressive.

This show is a good fit for the whole family, and the dancers interact with audience members both big and small – if you're not a fan of that, maybe avoid the front row altogether... During the curtain call, a lucky little kid even got to share a moment onstage with the god Baldr.

This show washed away my theatrical doldrums and inspired me to learn more about Norse mythology, so I'm doubly glad I happened to stumble across it. Breaking viking magic!

One video more.

Photos by Magnus Skrede.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Book of Mormon, Det Ny Teater

Seems like all musicals I've seen lately deal with religious themes. After Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Prince of Egypt, last Saturday, it was time for the Danish production of The Book of Mormon in Copenhagen's Det Ny Teater.

Of course, compared with the rest of that lot, the satirical and parodical Book of Mormon is a different thing entirely. Lately, this story of two clueless Mormon missionaries in Uganda has sneakily become one of my favourite musicals – I thought I didn't much like it, but somehow, I've still seen it in three different countries during the last year alone.

Let's see how the Danish production fares.

In all honesty, I'm still confused Det Ny Teater's production, directed by Kasper Holten. It had plenty of moments I enjoyed, but somehow, I'm still baffled by it. So, to clear my mind, maybe I'll start off simply by listing some details.

Things I enjoyed:

  • Price's moves! Silas Holst is a professional dancer, and that shows. His footwork during All-American Prophet is a joy to watch.
  • All of the Ugandans have plenty of personality, more than in any other production I've seen. Their costumes by Stefen Aarfing are also nice.
  • Mafala (Robert Bengtsson) and Nabulungi (Lea Thiim Harder) have a very sweet father-daughter relationship.
  • The General's understudy was on, so Joseph Smith was played by a lady in Joseph Smith American Moses.
  • The Mission President's long, long silence after the Ugandans finish their play. Hilarious.
  • The orchestration and the orchestra, conducted by Per Engström. Top notch! There are many new, fun little details in the orhcestrations (and the variation in the volume is a welcome change after seeing and hearing the 120-dB-at-all-times Swedish production).

Things I didn't enjoy:

  • The sets and the video projections. To my tastes, the sets by Stefen Aarfing are a bit too sparse and sleek, and together with the naivistic video projections, they create an odd combo. 
  • Carsten Svendsen's Cunningham is too clean-cut. By looks alone, were it not for the glasses, you could mistake him for Price.
  • Spooky Mormon Hell Dream. They have a really impressive-looking laser show on a dark stage that almost makes the scene feel scary for real – but that's hardly the point.
  • Nabulungi is not happy after her babtism. I think it's way funnier if they, uh, reach the climax of being babtized together.
  • Cutting Nabulungi's sad Hasa Diga Eebowai reprise.

So, plenty of good and some confusion. In the end, I think the problem is not in the details – it's that the overall tone of the production feels a little bit too realistic for my tastes.

The direction of this production is more drama-like than usually. Both Price and especially Cunningham feel really easily relatable, the stereotypical aspects of both leads and the Ugandans are somewhat toned down and certain serious moments are more serious than ever. That, in turn, makes the moments of bad taste seem ever worse and the underlying severity of the whole story feel a bit too real. While it's nice they're trying something new with the material, I'm afraid that for me, it's not really working.

A fellow blogger has a good point when they say this production hasn't quite found the right balance in between originality and the original story. Check out their analysis. I agree with them, I think some scenes have a slight reinventing-the-wheel vibe going on.

This is exemplified by the scene where the General shoves the titular book up Price's behind. They tear his pants down, lube the book and make it exceedingly clear what is going to happen next. It's certainly daring and shocking to show it, but when you stage the scene like that, the reveal of the x-ray is not as suprising and therefore doesn't elicit such a huge response.

Ultimately, I'd like to quote The Simpsons: still funny, but not ha-ha funny. 

This production of The Book of Mormon is entertaining and every aspect of it is professionally done, but somehow, it's not quite the a-laugh-a-minute musical I know and enjoy. I've seen The Book of Mormon in all Scandinavian countries now, and in Sweden and Norway, the audience literally screamed with laughter. Here, the audience reactions were more subdued. Just like the production itself.

Glad I saw it once, but wouldn't necessarily go for seconds.

Photos by Miklos Szabo.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Prince of Egypt, Fredericia Teater

Please note: Fredericia Teater invited me to see their production of The Prince of Egypt for free.

I would have wanted to love this musical.

Dreamworks' 1998 animated movie The Prince of Egypt is one of my top favourite animations, even top favourite movies, of all time. It retells the Biblical story of Moses, combining intense music with beautiful visuals to such an effect I cannot watch it without crying.

So, hearing the world premiere of a musical based on the movie was going to take place in Fredericia Teater, Denmark (the very same theatre that brought us that amazing production of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame), as an American/Danish co-production – well, you try not getting excited. I attended the opening night last Friday.

I would have loved to like it, but I have to be honest. It was a complete mess.

The story of the Dreamworks picture (directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells, screenplay by Philip LaZebnik and Nicholas Meyer, songs by Stephen Schwartz and score by Hans Zimmer) is based on the Book of Exodus and can be summarised in a couple of short sentences: Moses and Ramses are brothers. God gives Moses a difficult task. The brothers turn into enemies.

The movie starts off with the following disclaimer: While artistic and historical license has been taken, we believe this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.

The new musical is written by LaZebnik too, but instead of respectfully expanding upon the movie while keeping in mind the story's Abrahamic origins, it serves us an unfocused, childish jumble of new characters, scenes, and motivations. The subtlety, beauty and indeed integrity of the original film is thrown out of the window. Instead, we get less-than-memorable new tunes from Schwartz, cringeworthy jokes and an ending so naïve and sappy it puts all Disney fairytales to shame.

Let me walk you through this.

The first act is not without its problems, but, in the grand scheme of things, it's quite serviceable. You have baby Moses in the basket on the river, Moses and Ramses growing up together, their father the Pharaoh raising his boys with an iron fist and insisting that crown prince Ramses shall not be the weak link to break the chain of their mighty dynasty. You have Moses killing a guard, running away to the desert and meeting his destiny.

It's not perfect but leaves you curious for the second act – which is where all hope is lost.

Where shall I start? Should I first tell you about the comic relief-y song about slavery, or maybe the evil high priest who keeps pressuring Ramses into making bad decisions? Or about Moses's first miracle being, instead of his staff turning into a snake, him stumbling into the Nile and accidentally turning the water into blood? Or how, in the end, Moses and Ramses make amends and the force ghost of their father the Pharaoh comes back to bless their brotherly union?

I am serious with this.

Some more details before delving into further analysis. Tzipporah tells Moses and Ramses she is not going to dance for them, while sexily dancing. Moses doesn't help Tzipporah escape, he barely lets her out of her chains so she can dance better. Moses only stops the guard beating the slaves when he starts hitting his sister Miriam too. Moses and Tzipporah flirt while watching sheep mating. Ramses and Moses make sexist jokes about their wives. Moses visits his ailing adoptive mother, who scolds him about sending the plagues upon Egypt. The burning bush scene lasts for about 30 seconds. The ghost of the Pharaoh teaches Moses that sometimes you just have to kill a bunch of babies to make things work.

Besides the complete lack of focus, the musical has a really vague, disappointing relationship with God, morality and the supernatural.

No matter whether you're a believer or not, if you're adapting the story of Moses, you have to accept that God is going to be one of your major characters. Or so you would think. Here, blink and you miss the burning bush – it doesn't get its own scene, it's seriously a sidetrack in the first act finale – and even the miracles Moses performs are glanced over. All the moral lessons are heavy-handed, and instead of Ramses making his own bad decisions, a moustache-twirling high priest keeps pulling the strings and promptly gets killed off for his evil deeds.

I understand turning a 90-minute-movie into a musical requires changing things and adding new material, but for the life of me, I cannot understand why all subtlety, respect and trust in the audience's capability to think for themselves has to be lost in the process. In the musical, they would have had a fantastic chance of exploring things like Ramses coming to terms with his own mortality (all his life, he's been told he's a living god, but then his brother lines up with a deity more powerful than him) or, say, the relationship in between Moses and his biological siblings.

But what do we get?

Force ghost Pharaoh and the power of love, that's what.

Fredericia Teater's production, directed by Scott Schwartz, has its bright moments – above all else, Sean Cheesman's innovative, beautiful choreography and the vocals of leading man Diluckshan Jeyaratnam.

Cheesman's choreography and the talented dancers are the true stars of the show, I only wish there was even more space for dance. The dancers form the river, the horses and chariots, the desert sand, the burning bush... There are also some more traditional but nevertheless impressive dance breaks. Through Heaven's Eyes is absolutely wild.

When it comes to the actors' performances, besides admiring Jeyaratnam's vocal chops, I was entertained by Mads M. Nielsen's performance as Pharaoh Seti. He chews the scenery, shouts and yells and looms around, it's all rather hammy and very amusing. For the most part, though, the performances felt rather one-note to me. Maybe that's because the characters are written as such, or maybe I'm just not the biggest fan of Scott Schwartz's style of directing, seeing I wasn't too hot on his Hunchback, either.

The visuals are hit-and-miss. The minimalistic sets by Kevin Depinet and the digital scenography by Jakob Bønsdorff Eriksen are pretty. The costume design by the Tony-winning designer Ann Hould-Ward, however, looks cheap and weird and honestly ugly, not quite modern but definitively not period either.

The physical production would be all right, though, were it not for the mess of a script and lackluster songs. You cannot mask such fundamental problems, no matter how high your production values are.

How I wish this musical would have been worth seeing.

The Prince of Egypt is a gorgeous movie. The good thing is that no matter what the musical is like, no one's going to take that away from me, I can still enjoy the film whenever I want to. But I know how eagerly the musical fandom has been looking forward to the musical adaptation, and I think it's a huge shame this is how it turned out to be.

I suppose they're still testing the musical out in Denmark and, hopefully, are making changes to it before trying to produce it anywhere else. They have to do a lot, a lot, to make this work, but I wish they'll go to the trouble.

Both the movie and the age-old story of Moses deserve a way better musical adaptation.

Photos by Søren Malmose.
Also read The San Francisco Chronicle's review of the Californian run of this international production – not much was fixed in between that and the Danish run, it seems like.

P.S. About the songs from the original movie: they're still absolutely gorgeous, even if all that remains of Playing with the Big Boys is the intro and The Plagues has been combined with another, inferior tune. The former I could forgive, but the latter... If you've ever heard the song, I'm sure you understand why I cannot.
P.P.S. The crossing of the Red Sea was done by splitting the orchestra stalls in two. Sorta impressive.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Early 2018 Recap

I'm still alive!

From the first days of 2018, I've been really busy with many new projects (first and foremost the musical podcast I co-host, listen to our playlist of interviews in English here), so though I've missed writing, I haven't had enough time to blog in the past months.

I have, however, had time for theatre – so here are three mini-sized reviews of productions I've seen as of late.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Oscarsteatern

Sara Jangfeldt and Andreas T Olsson. Photo by Mats Bäcker.

First, a macabre little romp to get this year going!

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder tells the story of a man who finds out he's a distant relative of a rich aristocratic family. Soon, he figures out that the only way he's ever going to inherit the family fortune is to murder his newfound relatives in increasingly imaginative ways...

Henrik Dorsin, who plays the D'Ysquith family (all the relatives meeting their end, that is), is advertised as the big star of the newest Swedish production. He is funny in his multitude of roles – but my personal favourites are Andreas T Olsson and Sara Jangfeldt as the murderous gentleman Monty Navarro and his feisty sweetheart Sibella. You know how you sometimes take a liking to an actor immediately, how your gaze is drawn to them and just watching them onstage makes you happy? Both Olsson and Jangfeldt had that effect on me.

I have to mention that I'm not too enamored by the portrayal of women in this musical. The cheerfully self-centered and calculating Sibella is fun, but her counterpart Phoebe, who's sweet and kind and only wants to marry for love... yawn.

Overall, though, I like the characters and the story. The tunes are not especially catchy, but the lyrics are witty, and many scenes made me laugh out loud.

Sometimes, a light-hearted tale of murder is just what you need. A fun, yet not all that memorable experience.

Godspell, Tampereen Työväen Teatteri

Please note: I was invited to see this production for free because we made a podcast episode partially about it.

In the middle, Sonja Pajunoja as Jesus. Photo by Kari Sunnari.

I knew nothing of Godspell beforehand except for that it's composed by Stephen Schwartz and about Jesus. Turns out, it's a full-blown concept musical based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Parables of Jesus and praise of God via vaudeville-ish song and dance numbers.

Man, the 70s gave us some pretty odd musicals.

It took me a while to warm up to this. To me, the concept feels like a Christian youth club on steroids – Christianity is cool, y'all!! For someone like me, who's always felt averse of organized religion, it felt a bit too revival-meeting-like to have all that energetic gospel with hardly any criticism mixed in. Or maybe it's just too American for my tastes, praising God out in the open like that. In Finland, religion is generally a much more private matter.

But as the show went on, I did warm up to it. Sonja Pajunoja is a charismatic Jesus, kind and loving yet firm when the situation calls for it. The whole ensemble, from Tampere University of Applied Science's Music Academy, is bursting with talent and energy. Not to mention the super catchy music.

So, Godspell. A little awkward, but in a really cheerful way.

Jesus Christ Superstar in Concert, Åbo Svenska Teater

Please note: I was invited to see this production for free because we made a podcast episode partially about it.

Listen to Alexander Lycke sing Gethsemane.

Godspell might have been a bit too much for me, but for my tastes, Jesus Christ Superstar has just the right mix of religious themes and cynicism. It is one of my top five favourite musicals. The last time we had it in Finland, I saw it eight times in ten weeks and it was a cathartic experience every time.

I haven't seen JCS since those eight times... until this March, that is. A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing a touring concert production, performed by the Swedish rock band Astrakhan, helmed by Alexander Lycke as Jesus and featuring Mats Levén as Judas.

I just read an interesting analysis on Jesus Christ Superstar by a fellow blogger. It discusses how JCS feels stuck in the 90s because composer Andrew Lloyd Webber uses his veto power to stop major productions reinventing the material in any substantial way. Am I glad I live north enough that ALW doesn't seem to care what's going on here!

This concert had many of the elements the productions criticized in the analysis don't – namely, truely unique rock/progressive/whatever-you'd-call-that arrangements (here's how Astrakhan defines its music: "With love for hardrock and hatred of the genres conventions and standardization") and impressive, improvised solos (a full-blown drum solo in JCS, how about that). The production had a rather simple rock concert aesthetic with some striking projections, and despite being a concert first and a musical second, the story still snuck up on you.

Fully staged productions of JCS are their own thing, but when it comes to concert editions, this was as good as it gets. It's like the music was meant to be played like this, with a small band and a loud volume. It was mesmerizing.

Some of the news outlets that covered the concert mentioned that it could become an Easter tradition. I truely hope so. I would love to experience this again.

P.S. Listen to our podcast interview (in English) with the leads of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Teatteri, keskustelu

(In Finnish this time – in short, I'm still alive! Maybe I'll pick up posting in English again soon, too.)

Tervehdys, ystävät. Elän.

Elän, vaikka olenkin kovasti kiireinen. Hetkellisesti liian kiireinen bloggaamaan – mutta onneksi sentään jostain löytyy aina sopiva puolituntinen mesota Twitterissä. Kopioin tähän talteen tviittiketjuni maaliskuun alusta, ettei se iäksi katoa muun Twitter-metelöintini alle.

Sivuan ketjussa syytä alkuvuoden kiireisiini (Musikaalimatkassa-podcastia pääsee kuuntelemaan täällä), mutta ennen kaikkea nämä neljätoista tviittiä tiivistävät mielestäni hyvin muutamia asioita, joita olen jo pidempään pohtinut teatteriin, mediaan, viestintään ja yhteisöön liittyen.

1. Tanskassa on avattu uusi, koti- ja ulkomaisiin teatteriuutisiin keskittyvä verkkomedia. Sydämestäni toivon hankkeelle pitkää ikää, vuolaita jakoja ja ylitsepursuavia klikkauksia.

Tässä ketjussa hieman havaintojani aiheista #teatteri ja (pien)media.
2. Toki tuossa on kyse eri skaalan operaatiosta kuin omani (taustalla pr-toimisto), mutta silti – onnea matkaan.
Ainakin Suomen leveysasteilla teatteriaiheisen pienmedian pinnalla pitäminen vaatii nimittäin hurjasti työtä ja vaivaa. Toivottavasti tanskalaisten savotta on helpompi!

3. Olen pitkän linjan bloggari, mutta ykkösesimerkkinä käytän @Musikaalimatka-podcastia, jonka ydintiimistä muodostan 50 %.

Seuraava voi kuulostaa katkeralta avautumiselta ja osittain onkin sitä, mutta: että on ollut ja on yhä vaikeaa voittaa alan toimijoita puolellemme.

4. On toki monia ihania teattereita ja niissä työskenteleviä ihmisiä, jotka ovat välittäneet sanaa meistä sisäisesti ja ulkoisesti. Huikean suuri superkiitos meiltä heille.

Mutta vähintään yhtä suuri on se joukko, joka ei ole reagoinut viesteihimme. Olemme pyytäneet teattereita...
5. ...jakamaan podcastiamme henkilökunnalleen ja katsojilleen ajatuksella, että pyrimme tekemään jotakin uutta ja kivaa koko Suomen teatterikansalle.

Haluamme luoda yhteisön, jossa teatterista voidaan puhua ja innostua yhdessä, tylsät ammattilaiset vs. harrastajat -jaot unohtaen.

6. Yhteisöä ei synny, jolleivät ihmiset saa meistä tietää. Henkilökohtaisilla kontakteilla pääsee vain hyvään alkuun.

Toivoimme siis, että teatterit voisivat solidaarisesti ojentaa meille kätensä ja jakaa podcast-linkkiä somessa. Heillähän niitä katsojia ja tekijöitä on.

7. Harmillisen usein meistä vaikuttaa kuitenkin siltä, että asiamme ei teattereita kiinnosta, jollemme käsittele niiden omaa ohjelmistoa laajasti – ja positiivisesti.

On tietenkin jokaisen toimijan oikeus olla meitä jakamatta. Jos sisältömme ei innosta, meidän on se hyväksyttävä.

8. Mutta on rankkaa tehdä – vaikka itse sanonkin – pieteetillä erittäin hyvää sisältöä ja samalla taistella joka kuuntelusta.

Harmi, miten harva teatteri tuntuu kokevan, että omaa some-kilpeään voisi kiillottaa myös jakamalla naapuria kehuvan tai alaa yleisesti käsittelevän jutun.

9. Ehkäpä pointtini on tiivistettynä tämä: miten paljon enemmän ja parempaa teatterikeskustelua Suomessa voitaisiin käydä, jos teatterit mahdollistaisivat sitä aktiivisemmin?

10. Loppuun vielä kokoelma hajanaisempia ajatuksia.

Ruotsissa on oma koko maan kattava musikaalipienmedia MusikalNet. Sisältö on journalistisesti hädin tuskin kelvollista, mutta kyllä tuolla uutisnälkä talttuu. Nostan hattua tekijöiden ahkeruudelle.

11. Kotimaan puolelta olen miettinyt, kuinka kävi @norsunluufi-kokeilun. Tavoite oli todella arvokas – yhdistää journalistit, bloggarit ja taiteilijat samaan keskusteluun – mutta sisältö jäi mielestäni liian korkealle yläpilviin ja kuivui sitten kasaan.


12. Itse olen kuusi vuotta pyörittänyt suomalaisen musikaalin ilosanomaa jakavaa Fuck Yeah, Finnish Musical Theatre! -blogia päivitys päivässä -tahtia.

Kaikkeen ei yksi ihminen repeä, tänä keväänä täytyy hidastaa. Mutta on siellä melkein 3
500 kuvaa silti.
13. Yhä jaksan lapsekkaasti uskoa, että täällä Suomessakin olisi tilausta uudenlaiselle, hyvin tehdylle teatterimedialle – ja ettei yksi podcast täytä koko tarvetta.

Toivon, että joku vielä keksii taikatempun, jolla potentiaalinen yleisö ja sisältö saadaan kohtaamaan toisensa.

14. Olisi hienoa saada Suomeen enemmän koko alan kattavaa teatterikeskustelua. Ei mitään masennuspuhetta kritiikin kriisistä, vaan uusia tapoja välittää tietoa ja jutella koetusta yhdessä! 
Katsotaan ja otetaan oppia siitä, miten tanskalaiset uudessa hankkeessaan menestyvät.

Ketjusta lähti Twitterissä käyntiin hirveän hyvä keskustelu, jossa pohdittiin laajemmin teatterien näkymistä sosiaalisessa mediassa. Itse teatterialalla viestintää tehneenä tiedän, että luonteva some-oleminen ei ole teatterille helppoa – mutta toisaalta katsojan, fanin ja myös podcast-juontajan näkökulmasta on usein turhauttavaa, miten pieneltä ja hajanaiselta suomalaisten teattereiden ja teatterinystävien yhteisö sosiaalisessa mediassa näyttää.

Uskon, että ainekset suurempaan, tiiviimpään yhteisöön ovat kyllä olemassa.

Minusta tuntuu nimittäin, että monilla olisi halua jakaa omia ajatuksiaan ja tunteitaan rakkaasta teatteriharrastuksesta (tai ammatista, tai elämäntavasta), mutta jokin umpisuomalainen häpeän tunne rajoittaa oma-aloitteista avautumista. Eihän tässä mitään ammattikriitikkoja olla, mitä väliä minun mielipiteelläni on, ja onhan se kuitenkin aika kummallista fanittaa teatteria tai muutenkaan ilakoida aiheella... Mutta jos joku nyhtää sopivasti, tulpan voi saada auki ja teatterikeskustelun käyntiin.

Toivoa antoi esimerkiksi taannoinen Musikaalimatkassa-podcastin tilillä aloittamamme Twitter-ketju, jossa ihmiset jakoivat hyviä teatterimuistojaan. Aivan ihania tarinoita, jotka olisivat ilman keskustelun aloittanutta kysymystä jääneet kertomatta.

Voi olla, että yhtä, kaikenkattavaa taikatemppua tiivimmän teatteriyhteisön luomiseksi sosiaaliseen mediaan ei ole olemassakaan. Mutta ehkä yhteen hiileen puhaltamalla suomalainen teatterimaailma voisi nostaa kotimaista teatterikeskustelua ainakin hieman aktiivisemmalle, helpommin lähestyttävälle tasolle – ja samalla ehkä hiukan madaltaa teatterin kynnystä. Ei liene keneltäkään pois, jos välillä muistaa vaikka kehua naapuria tai tosissaan kysellä ja kuunnella katsojien fiiliksiä.

Toivottavasti pikaisiin blogipalaamisiin!