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!

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