Saturday, December 17, 2011

'Rock of Ages' - my new favourite guilty pleasure

The posters up at tube stations really do speak the truth when talking about London's best new guilty pleasure musical or whatever the exact wording is. I had heard pretty good things about Rock of Ages. However, since I am not a complete rock music fanatic, I was not in too much of a rush to see it right away. The opportunity presented itself on Monday when I found out there were £12 stalls tickets (inc. booking fee) available for 16-26 year-olds for this particular performance. Not missing out on a deal like that! The seats we were allocated were brilliant as well! Almost bang in the middle of the auditorium so we could see the whole stage without obstruction.

Rock of Ages at Shaftesbury Theatre, London
Performance: 16th December at 17:30 (such a random time for a show! No wonder they have cheap tickets for this and no wonder the show was u/s dominated)
Cast included: Grant Anthony (Dennis, u/s), Shayne Ward (Stacee Jaxx), Jamie Muscato (Drew, u/s), Jodie Jacobs (Sherrie, u/s), Simon Lipkin (Lonny), Zizi Strallen (Regina, u/s), Rohan Tickell (Hertz), Sandy Moffatt (Franz), Rachel McFarlane (Mother), Carly Mercedes Dyer (Mother, u/s, took over in the second act)

According to the programme, the show would include 31 rock hits (of which I only recognised 7). That made me scared: How on earth would they fit that many songs as well as a plot of some sort into a 2,5h show? There was no way for it to overrun too much either since the next performance was due to start at 20:30. 
The answer: Surprisingly well. It was to a great extent a rock concert but there was an attempt of a plot: Sherrie moves to California to become an actress. She meets Drew, an aspiring rock star, at the club where he works, which is owned by Dennis. Hertz and his son Franz appeal to the Mayor in order to create a rock 'n' roll place of the much beloved city and Regina (who wishes her name to be pronounced so it rhymes with 'vagina'), the Mayor's PA, makes it her task to protest against the reform which the Mayor agrees to. The two men then go on to tell Dennis that the club will be shut down. Drew and Sherrie, predictably, fall for each other but Drew does not communicate his feelings clearly enough and so Sherrie ends up getting off with Stacee Jaxx, the real rock star whom all the girls are after. I will not reveal any more for those of you who want to go and see it but, well, the plot is fairly predictable. It should perhaps not be criticised for that, however, because this musical is very much a feel-good one focused on the songs and might suffer rather than benefit from having a complicated plot. Having seen We Will Rock You, I preferred Rock of Ages in terms of the storyline.

I recognised Jamie Muscato from the children's sitcom My Parents Are Aliens which I used to love. That was slightly surreal to begin with but I forgot that as soon as he started to sing as his vocals were phenomenal. I did not expect a voice as big as that. 
Jodie did a brilliant job of Sherrie who, as a character, initially reminded me of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. The slightly breathy quality of voice suited the genre perfectly. 
Simon Lipkin was an absolute legend. Lonny, his character, acted as a narrator for the story so he addressed the audience and commented on what was going on. It seemed almost like he was improvising some of his performance. Particular point where I suspected this was when he was explaining Drew that he is an actor in a musical and showing him a copy of the very same Rock of Ages programme that was lying in my lap. Lonny said something along the lines of: "Look, there you are! Awww, look at that baby face. You have short hair there but long hair here *tugging Drew's hair*. Short there but long here. How old are you here *points at Jamie's picture in the programme*? Four?" He then went onto saying how he thought Drew should do his hair. Both Simon and Jamie were cracking up at this point but it was not a big deal as the moment was not too serious. So Simon Lipkin was very relaxed and funny. 

Other special mentions go to:

  • Rohan Tickell's gorgeous voice
  • Sandy Moffatt who was responsible for the funniest line in the play: "I'm not gay, I'm just German!", he reminded me of a male version of Galinda in Wicked (if those two were in a show together it would turn out a complete disaster)
  • Shayne Ward who was a great actor
  • The fabulous dancers
Not only did the actors address the audience, they were also running around, through the audience as a part of the show which was a nice add. The audience was really encouraged to get involved (although not quite as involved as a bunch of girls on our right across the aisle did with the help of some alcohol - not only were they loud at inappropriate points but they also got up to go to the toilet constantly). This sort of involvement and a kind of team spirit that developed is not that common in the West End I think. The only other time I have gotten the feeling that the audience really is there to support the performers was at Shrek the Musical so it really is not given. (And that resulted in the hot guys sitting on my left even saying 'hi' to us!)

Would I recommend Rock of Ages? Yes, I would. If you like rock music, even better I'm sure but my friend and I don't know very much about rock music and we still agreed that it was a great night out. Go see it. The theatre staff are very friendly as well and they gave us small glowy things that we could wave in the air during the performance! :D

Official website:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Les Misérables' first (No, I had never seen it before)

Those people who know a bit more about me and my interest in musical theatre have expressed their shock when I have told them that I have neither seen this legendary musical nor know what it is about. I own a copy of the audio recording of the 10th anniversary concert (much love for Colm Wilkinson, Philip Quast, Ruthie Henshall etc.) and I have had that playing in the background but I had not listened to the lyrics particularly carefully. And of course I was familiar with some well-known songs like On My Own, I Dreamed A Dream and Do You Hear the People Sing? but aside from that I was very much in the dark until yesterday. 

I will put down some of the things I discovered and liked about the show. No heavy criticism as I don't want to offend anyone. Again, feel free to add your own comments :) 

Before the show: I thought Les Mis was was a story about war in which everyone dies. That will sound absolutely ridiculous to those of you who know the musical. It sounds ridiculous to me now that I have seen it. And I walked into the auditorium quietly singing Do You Hear the People Sing? to myself (and I left at the end still singing that).

Les Misérables at Queen's Theatre in London
Performance on 14th December 2011 at 14:30
Seat: Quite far back in the upper circle but in the middle of the row so I could still see the whole stage. I had binoculars with me.
Cast inc.: Ramin Karimloo (Jean Valjean), Hadley Fraser (Javert), A J Callaghan (Fantine, u/s), Alexia Khadime (Eponine), Lisa-Anne Wood (Cosette), Craig Mather (Marius), Liam Tamne (Enjolras), Cameron Blakely (Thénardier), Katy Secombe (Madame Thénardier)

I very much wanted to see Ramin in this since I've seen him in both The Phantom of the Opera and Love Never Dies before and I absolutely adore his voice. He sang beautifully; especially Bring Him Home was incredible and that long note at the end of Soliloquy genuinely made me jump - I just did not expect it to come out as strong as it did. The audience was quite lame and that combined with the fact that there are not many breaks for the audience to applaud in, everyone sat fairly silently. The only time there was a proper cheer before the curtain call was after Bring Him Home so there really was something extraordinary about that performance.
I have been hearing people doubting how well Ramin could play the part of Jean Valjean because they simply could not picture him do it. A friend of mine pointed out that Enjolras, whom Ramin has played before, is probably a  more suitable part for him. While I am not denying that Ramin was incredible and he adapted his vocals perfectly to the role, I can still see why some people might lean towards preferring him as Enjolras. His voice would have been perfectly suited to that part.

What was the best thing about the show? If I was to say just one thing I would say Javert's coat. I think his coat was really cool! Well that got me nicely onto Javert and the fact that Hadley Fraser was great in the part. And I thought it was brilliant how the part-allocation had worked out here thinking back at The Phantom of the Opera 25th anniversary concert in which Ramin played the Phantom and Hadley played Raoul. Anyway, Hadley has a great, great voice!

Many have wondered how Alexia did as Eponine. If I am honest, she did not leave as big an impression as some of the other actors did. I have heard so many great things about her though, that I have come to think she might simply have had a bit of an off-day today. Her voice is very powerful and on occasion it stood out a little bit too much from the cast as a whole in my opinion, slightly due to nasality as well. However, she did add a riff to On My Own which I liked very much!

Particular mentions go to:

  • Lisa-Anne Wood who sang Cosette beautifully. She has quite a pretty, unique voice and I have a feeling we will be hearing of her in the future. Landing a role like this pretty much straight from drama school is no easy thing so she does have talent.
  • Katy Secombe came across as the perfect Madame Thénardier (what a name to spell - I keep having to re-check the spelling every time!) both considering voice and comic ability. 
  • An amazing soprano voice in the ensemble whose owner I failed to identify but in some ensemble sections I could hear it above everyone else. 
  • The little boy who played Gavroche, he seemed so comfortable on stage and made the audience laugh!


  • This musical consists pretty much completely of singing so for people who are not used to paying overly close to attention to lyrics (like me), it is not the easiest one to follow if you do not know the plot.
  • I was surprised by how good the plot was. I am not quite sure why since a legendary musical such as this cannot really afford to have a dull or weird plot.
  • This show relies a lot on a great ensemble and the ensemble numbers were impressive.
  • There are so many markings on the stage - from the upper circle they are really visible.
  • This is no musical for little children; the gunshots really scared me.
  • In the barricade scene, from my seat I was able to see the 'dead' people getting up and exiting the stage behind the barricade.
  • They have effectively taken advantage of the fact that there is a rotating stage.

I am aware that I am probably in the minority by actually reading the synopses in programmes so: If you have a copy of the Les Mis programme but have not read the synopsis, go and have a read for entertainment value. It is quite funny if you imagine how confusing it is for someone who does not know the plot. Not only are there tons of names, some of the sentences are also very long with several clauses, not to mention the occasional imprecise use of personal pronouns:

"Valjean confesses the truth of his past to Marius and insists he must go away." 

Sorry, who must go away? :P

Conclusion: Yes, I am intending to go and see Les Misérables again :) I am not sure how and why I have gone this long without seeing it. In addition, I know the original book by Victor Hugo is big but I might still have a go at reading it!

P.S. If someone knows what the initials in 'A J Callaghan' stand for, please share. I am curious to find out!

Monday, December 12, 2011

'Wicked' muck-up matinee

I have been asked by a couple of people to give some details about what muck-ups took place in the matinee performance on 10th December at Wicked London.

What is a muck-up matinee?
A brief explanation to those who are not familiar with the concept. In the West End shows, musicals in particular, tend to have long runs and there will be changes in the cast along the way. The last matinee of a cast before they leave and another cast takes over is traditionally called a muck-up matinee. In this performance the cast members may choose to tweak the show a little bit by doing ad-libs, swapping costumes or props or by saying each others' lines for instance. Most of the time the changes are of such nature that people who have not seen the show before do not realise that there is anything wrong and in principle it is still a normal performance of the show. 

Here goes:

Principal cast: Rachel Tucker (Elphaba), Louise Dearman (Glinda), Mark Evans (Fiyero), Clive Carter (The Wizard), Julie Legrand (Madame Morrible), Zoe Rainey (Nessarose), Ben Stott (Boq)
This was the last matinee for all principal cast except Rachel and Julie as well as for some ensemble members. 

  • Arrival to Shiz: Nessarose was wearing a blue hat which could later be seen on one of the Shiz students.
  • What Is This Feeling: Elphaba made a face at her reflection in Galinda's mirror.
  • Dancing Through Life (when Glinda decides to give the black hat to Elphaba): Jennifer Tierney (ensemble) used her Scottish accent for "Galinda, what in Oz name?!". She also does this later for "Like a terrible green lizard throughout the land she flies."
  • Ozdust Ballroom: Elphaba did a half-improvised dance which involved her rolling on the floor. Galinda copied her.
  • Popular: Elphaba and Galinda took a really long time to say "green".
  • Popular: The lipstick Galinda put on Elphaba was bright red and sparkly.
  • Popular: Elphaba: "This is never going to work." Galinda *goes to her shoes*: "Ooooh! Shooooooe!"
  • Popular: When Galinda threw her wand off-stage, someone threw it back on and it landed at Elphaba and Galinda’s feet. They looked at it for a long time before Galinda carefully picked it up and threw it off again. 
  • Classroom: Fiyero: "It's just, you've been Galindafied. Toss toss! *giggle*".
  • Classroom: The man who brought in the lion cub had made a small ponytail in his wig and he could not say his 'R's.
  • Lion cub scene (just before 'I'm Not That Girl'): When Fiyero ran across the stage with the lion cub to exit, Galinda ran after him. 
  • Train station: Boq: "I can't do this anymore. Toss toss!"
  • Train station: Fiyero gave Elphaba a green envelope instead of flowers.

  • The Wicked Witch of the East (as Elphaba exits): Elphaba to Nessarose: "Frankly, dear, I don't give a damn."
  • As Long As You're Mine: Not a muck up but I have got to give a mention to Mark's beautiful riff.
  • As Long As You're Mine: Some proper arse-grabbing from Fiyero, Fiyero and Elphaba looked like they were eating each others' faces off during the kiss at the end. It was unclear from where I was sitting whether it was Fiyero pulling Elphaba or Elphaba pushing but they ended up lying onstage on top of each other still kissing.
  • Cat-fight scene: Elphaba and Glinda were fighting for longer because the guards delayed their entrance.
  • Fiyero's capture (after the cat fight): When Fiyero pointed his gun at Glinda, she stepped forward and pressed her forehead against the muzzle. 
  • March of the Witch Hunters: One ensemble member carried a spray-bottle instead of a pitchfork.
  • March of the Witch Hunters: One of the women had a moustache on.
  • March of the Witch Hunters: Some of the wigs had been switched around; some wigs from 'Thank Goodness' were used.
  • Chistery handing Elphaba the note about Fiyero's death: Some other pieces of paper fall onto the floor from Chistery's hand. 
  • Curtain call: Rachel and Louise both wore funny glasses: Rachel yellow and Louise pink ones.
  • Curtain call: Mark did his 'Moves like Mevans' (explanation for that can be found in this video).

This was the first time I attended a muck-up matinee and it was only my second time seeing Wicked in London so I am fairly certain I did not catch all the muck-ups that took place. Please feel free to modify or add to the list by commenting :)

Big thanks to Gemma for adding to my list and to Alisha for confirming a couple of uncertainties.

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Dancing (and Singing) Through Life - Challenge

    So this is the challenge my lovely friend Lily Luna put on the table: Introduce your current musical theatre collection.
    Since I subscribe to Spotify Unlimited, I generally only physically buy soundtracks if they are not available on there. Hence the slightly random CD collection.
    Update 13.3.2012: New additions in green

    Simply the Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber
    Chess in Concert
    The Lord of the Rings: Original London Soundtrack
    Les Misérables: 10th Anniversary Concert
    Pinocchio (The Swedish Theatre in Helsinki)
    Robin Hood (The Swedish Theatre in Helsinki)
    Wicked - Die Hexen von Oz: Original German Soundtrack

    Solo albums by musical theatre actors:
    (Do these count? I decided to include them anyway)
    Anthems - Kerry Ellis
    Close Your Eyes - Annalene Beechey
    I'll Bring You a Song - Shona White
    The Journey Home - Mark Evans
    Little Stories - Dianne Pilkington
    Wish - Sutton Foster
    You and I - Louise Dearman

    Chess in Concert
    Les Misérables: 25th anniversary concert
    Moulin Rouge
    My Fair Lady
    The Phantom of the Opera: 25th anniversary concert
    The Producers
    Rent: Live on Broadway
    Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

    Vocal selections (i.e. sheet music books):
    Jesus Christ Superstar
    Legally Blonde
    My Fair Lady
    The Phantom of the Opera

    Tickets and programmes that have survived:
    After the Turn, The Courtyard Theatre, London (ticket + programme)
    The Baker's Wife, Union Theatre, London (programme)
    Billy Elliot, Victoria Palace Theatre, London (programme)
    Blondi - Legally Blonde, Samppalinnan kesäteatteri, Turku (ticket + programme)
    Crazy for You, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London (programme)
    Ghost the Musical, Piccadilly Theatre, London (ticket + programme)
    La Cage aux Folles, Helsinki City Theatre, Helsinki (ticket + programme)
    Legally Blonde, Savoy Theatre, London (tickets + programme)
    Les Misérables, Queen's Theatre, London (ticket + programme)
    The Lord of the Rings, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London (ticket + programme)
    Parade, Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London (ticket)
    The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty's Theatre, London (ticket + programme)
    Pippin, The Menier Chocolate Factory, London (ticket + programme)
    The Secret Garden, Hampton Hill Playhouse, Hampton Hill (ticket)
    The Three Musketeers, Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames (ticket + programme)
    We Will Rock You, The Dominion Theatre, London (ticket + programme)
    Wicked, Helsinki City Theatre, Helsinki (2 tickets + programme)
    Wicked, Apollo Victoria Theatre, London (tickets + programmes)
    Wicked, Circustheater, Den Haag (programme + souvenir book)
    Mamma Mia! (x2)
    The Phantom of the Opera: 25th anniversary concert

    Annaleigh Ashford, Desmond Barrit, Gina Beck, Annalene Beechey, Katie Rose Clarke, Michael Crawford, Louise Dearman, Siobhan Dillon, Killian Donnelly, Kerry Ellis, Mark Evans, Nicole Faraday, Alice Fearn, America Ferrera, Lillie Flynn, Julian Forsyth, Sutton Foster, Alex Gaumond, Shimi Goodman, Ashleigh Gray, Joel Grey, Jill Halfpenny, Megan Hilty, Amanda Holden, Danielle Hope, Ramin Karimloo, Julie Legrand, Caissie Levy, Aoife Mulholland, Dianne Pilkington, Zoe Rainey, Carley Stenson, Oliver Tompsett, Rachel Tucker, Anna-Maija Tuokko, Matt Willis, Maria Ylipää.

    Legally Blonde: 8x10" photo print with Sheridan Smith as Elle Woods
    Stamp set featuring West End musical theatre posters
    Wicked: green t-shirt which reads 'Defy Gravity'
    Wicked: 8x10" photo print with Rachel Tucker as Elphaba
    Wicked: Broadway cast-signed playbill

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Inadequate explanation of absence and update

    So, I did not use this blog at all in the way I intended to. In fact, I did not end up using it at all.
    What happened? I have no idea. Anyway, by this time, I have returned to live in the UK. Not because I did not like Finland (on the contrary, after getting over the initial problems, I ended up having an absolute ball) but rather because I felt the need to return. After all, I did have a university place waiting for me here in Nottingham.

    Over the six months I spent in Finland, theatre became an even greater part of my life than it had been before.
    I went to see the Finnish production of Wicked in March at the Helsinki City Theatre. I was already a fan of musical theatre and having seen several shows in London's West End, I went in with an embarrassingly prejudiced attitude: "There is no way a production in Finland will beat a West End show." (N.B. I had never seen Wicked in the West End and I did not know the story behind the musical even if I had heard some of the songs.) Already after the first act I could not contain my excitement. The show was one of the most fantastic things I had ever seen on stage.

    Delving deeper into the world of Finnish theatre, I found that, despite being a country with a small population, there is a surprisingly large number of plays going on at a surprisingly large number of theatres, particularly in the capital. And, naturally, this would not be the case if there were not a significant number of people seeing them.
    One cannot leave out the summer theatre culture, of course. All the big theatres are closed in the summer, giving the small open air theatres (not rarely located in the middle of nowhere) a chance to shine. And speaking of shining, the weather usually agrees with this tradition, which is lucky seeing as some of the theatres are completely uncovered. One might expect these productions to be cheap and amateur-made but this is so far off the truth that... I can't even come up with a piece of imagery to describe it. An expensive set or lots of special effects simply is not the point of summer theatre. That would be very much out of place, I think. Besides, the talent of the actors keeps the audience engaged. 

    Interesting piece of trivia:
    The Finnish production of the musical The Producers had translated Max's line, which originally read:
    "I am the director who invented theatre in a square."
    "I am the first director who put on summer theatre in the winter."

    It is a shame tourists do not particularly get to be a part of the Finnish theatre culture due to the language issue. In addition, the budget of shows is rarely of a size allowing the sets and costumes to be particularly flashy like they tend to be in the West End or Broadway, so most of the time there is not even a visual element for tourists to follow. The best bet, if one does not speak Finnish would be to go and see one of the musicals at the Helsinki City Theatre (as far as I understand, the productions of Broadway musicals they put on there, are of high quality and very enjoyable to watch, especially if you know the story beforehand).

    I have a feeling that my blog (which I will try to update regularly) will take a slightly more theatre and musical theatre orientated approach. But cultural differences are such a curious topic that it will certainly feature.

    Friday, February 25, 2011

    The Sauna

    During my first few years in London, one of the questions frequently posed by my Finnish relatives was "Do you miss the sauna?" At the time I always truthfully replied no. However, my appreciation for the sauna grew as I grew older. Today, I can't imagine anything better than a sauna after a long day at work. Always when on holiday in Finland, I enjoy going back to traditions, things that remind me of my childhood and obviously sauna is a part of virtually every Finn's live from an early age.

    I think the statistic goes 'Two million saunas for five million people'. That just shows how that little hot room, which is considered luxury in many countries, is a standard thing for Finns to have.

    I tried to explain the purpose of the sauna to a London friend of mine who is half Colombian. I discovered that to be an impossible task as by the end of it she still would not comprehend why a room should be used up like that.

    I have a feeling that unless you have grown up with a sauna or at least been using one for several years, it is difficult to grasp the feel of total relaxation and to enjoy the sweet warmth of the sauna. Especially during the cold, Nordic winters it feels amazing to be sitting in a sauna watching the fire in the kiuas and occasionally glancing out of the little window at the layer of snow which appears blue in the darkening evening.

    On the other hand, we have even managed to make a contest out of sitting in the sauna. Watch a video on the Sauna Championships here.

    Sunday, February 20, 2011

    The Finnish personality trait cont.

    Just a short continuation to earlier post as I found a video which, in a hilarious way, sums up the stereotypical Finn at the start (up to 2:45). The rest, about the tango, is funny to watch but, before watching this video, I had never heard that tango would be anything especially associated with Finland.

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    The Finnish personality trait and Observation #1

    I have tried to grasp why other nationalities consider Finns cold and fairly unapproachable. The main reason that it seems to come down to is that Finns don't talk much. Because they don't, one never knows what they are thinking. That's scary. When you feel them looking at you with those piercing blue eyes (but avoiding eye-contact at all costs), you feel that they know too much. You start over-thinking the reason for why there is no eye-contact. There is an unspoken air of intelligence about Finns and one may feel that they look down on you.

    Finns only speak when they have something to say. Small-talk eventually becomes a second nature when you live in the UK for instance but it only takes one look at the Finnish translation for 'small-talk' to realise that it is not something common. An online dictionary gives: 'rupattelu', 'jutustelu', 'small talk'. How often does one hear the two first mentioned words in everyday life? Somehow they remind me of old ladies who start narrating their life story to you on the bus. No offense to old ladies, but I am sure I'm not the only one who considers situations like that uncomfortable. I wonder whether the Finns who end up staying in the same space with me for a while get the same feeling. I have probably learnt to talk 'too much' in the opinion of a Finn (I cannot be sure, because they would never express their opinion out loud unless possibly if they know you well).

    The Finn observation of the day: When standing and waiting for the lights to change at a pedestrian crossing, Finns tend not to stand one next to another even if the crossing is wide. Instead, they will stand diagonally one behind the other so each of them still has a clear view of the crossing.

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    The essential introduction

    I was planning on blogging in Finnish to begin with but I think I have settled for English now. It's easier for me anyway. And if I feel like it, I could always change. Finnish is my native language so feel free to comment in that as well. I also speak fluent Swedish and decent French, if you prefer. :)

    Briefly about me: I moved to Espoo, Finland at the beginning of January after spending 4,5 years in London, the capital of the United Kingdom. By ethnicity I am as Finnish as one can get: my entire family are citizens of this particular Nordic country (apart from a few cousins several times removed whose grandparents moved to the USA almost a century ago) which most people know nothing about. Despite being back in my native country, I have come face to face with a culture shock which will feature in my blog.

    For more info about me, please have a look at the second tab at the top of the page :)