Sunday, January 29, 2012

'The Phantom of the Opera' - My #1 favourite

It's about time I posted something about The Phantom of the Opera as it is my favourite musical of all time. Although it was not the first musical I saw, it was the first one that I really fell in love with. The title song left a lasting impression on me when I first heard it. That particular version is still my favourite (original London cast recording with Michael Crawford as the Phantom and Sarah Brightman as Christine):

I saw The Phantom of the Opera in the West End in October 2008 (Ramin Karimloo in the title role, Gina Beck as Christine, Simon Bailey as Raoul) after having listened to the soundtrack and having read Gaston Leroux's book on which the musical is based (that was some tough reading - somehow the text felt very heavy). I have to admit that I failed to fully appreciate the show at the time. I did not know very much about musical theatre or singing then (even so I could tell that the cast sang very well but I could not pick out any details). I remember thinking the theatre was not as big and impressive as I expected it to be. And I got dead-scared by the chandelier coming down! We had good seats in the stalls (a couple of rows from the front) and I remember pointing out the chandelier to my mum before the start of the performance and going "But that's not gonna fall down, that'd be impossible." How wrong I was, clearly underestimated the things West End theatre is capable of.

The Phantom of the Opera is the second longest running musical in the West End (second only to Les Mis) and the longest running on Broadway so there really must be something special about it. I suppose it is a perfect love story with gorgeous music. The Phantom is such an enigmatic and charismatic character in a dark kind of way that, as a member of the audience, you are drawn to him and of course one is eager to know whether Christine chooses Raoul or the Phantom in the end (even if I know how the story ends, it does not prevent me from thinking that maybe this time the outcome will be different).

I am planning on booking tickets to see the show again soon. Hopefully I'll manage to fit a trip to see the UK touring production into my schedule as well.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

'The Producers' at Arts Ed

The Producers has been one of my favourite musicals ever since I saw the 2005 film starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick but I had not seen the show on stage before. Some people who are not that keen on theatre have pointed out that the film is rather long-winded and not that much happens in it. I am inclined to agree but I think that's why it works on stage. I have also seen the original non-musical film from 1968 and even though I thought Gene Wilder was very good as Leo, the film was not really my piece of cake. There is something I like about the musical version. Anyway, I think the plot is brilliant and the script is hilarious and that gives a great end result.

The Producers on Broadway 2001-2007
Short plot summary for those who are not familiar with this musical: 
Max Bialystock's days as Broadway's best producer seem to be over as he yet again fails to put on a successful show. However, Leo Bloom, an accountant whose secret dream is to become a producer, enters and realises a producer could make more money with show that flops than one that is a hit. Max and Leo embark upon a project of finding the worst script, the worst director and the worst cast possible in order to produce a sure-to-be flop.

I take a weekly musical theatre class at Arts Educational Schools London and this is where I heard that the final year BA Musical Theatre students of the school were putting up a production of the show. Of course I wanted to see it! 

I was amazed by the detail of the set and costumes (they even had moving pigeons :P)  The cast was fabulous of course. Student productions are lovely to watch because you can really feel the enthusiasm of the cast. I particularly liked the guy who played Leo and the guy who played Roger de Bris (the gay director). The girl who played Ulla (the hot Swedish receptionist whom Max and Leo hire and whose accent most certainly is not Swedish) had a great voice and the fact that she was taller than both of the leading men made her a spot-on choice for the part. I was slightly disappointed that one of my favourite songs in the film, Betrayed, was not in this stage production at all. Also one of my very favourite lines ("She painted over the numbers!") had been cut out. 

Springtime for Hitler was fabulous though. In fact, thinking about it, that song is among my favourite musical theatre tunes. It is such an incredible ensemble number (oh, speaking of the ensemble, before I forget: in this production, even the male members of the ensemble played little old ladies in that group number :D) and magnificent in terms of costumes. It was most certainly more impressive live than on film. 

I felt that seeing The Producers live made me pick out things, in the dialogue especially, that I have not given attention to before (watching it extracted many more laughs from me than the film has ever done so far). 

Friday, January 27, 2012

"It's all London, baby!" part 3

I have lived in the UK for quite a while now so surely I can be excused for having 'Weather' as a separate heading(?) The English are known for their tendency to talk about the weather. I think part of the reason is that there really is something to talk about in that sector; the weather can change very suddenly. To be safe, one should always have an umbrella with them on day trips in London. Even the weather forecast does not always know what's coming. 

The rumours that it rains a lot in London are true but that doesn't mean it's never sunny. Especially in the summer we can get long periods of gorgeous weather with temperatures swerving around 30 degrees Celsius. Because the air is humid, it feels hotter than it otherwise would (in Finland the air tends to be quite dry).
February 2009 when it snowed more than usual.
It snows in London maybe once a year. It is not much, only a thin layer which generally clears itself by the next day. London is never prepared for the snow even though it could be regarded as an annual occurrence so everything comes to a standstill. People are discouraged to drive, the public transport stops running, many schools and shops are closed because staff can't get to work (so for pupils snow day is an event to look forward to).

Otherwise the weather in the winter tends to be a couple of degrees Celsius. The rain and the wind often makes it seem colder though. One almost wishes it was slightly colder just so that it would snow instead of it raining. Or, well, I do :P

Monday, January 23, 2012

Louise Dearman - Up Close

Louise played the role of Glinda in the London production of Wicked until December last year for those who don't recognise the name. She did a series of small solo gigs in the autumn but she was ill for one of the dates (the one I had a ticket for) so it had been rescheduled for 21st January. I am aware that for those hardcore Louise Dearman fans this account of the events may feel very general so apologies in advance. I saw Louise perform in Wicked once and only met her very briefly in October before this gig. Perhaps you enjoy reading about the rise of a new Dearman fan.
(Please note: Quotes are from memory so they are approximate. Just to give the people who did not have the chance to attend an idea of what was going on :) )

I don't usually go to gigs so I was quite proud that I was actually going to one (where it was not a friend performing or something) out of my own initiative. My friend could not make the rescheduled date so I ended up going on my own. I was not too worried though. I had survived Mark Evans's album launch party just going there and chatting to people. Everyone would be in the same boat in the sense that they all will have come to see Louise perform. Everyone would be there to support her together. 

When I arrived I recognised some people from Twitter and couple of others from Mark's album launch. I debated for a long while as to whether I should go and talk to them or not but I decided against it. I was not brave enough. The Alleycat Bar and Club where the gig took place was a small one close to Tottenham Court Road tube station and there were not seats for everyone. I got a drink at the bar in order to get more time to decide where I would position myself and glanced around. I could see some of the key members of 'Team Dearman' right by the small stage. As Louise later pointed out: "These guys have been waiting outside from one in the afternoon. That's why they are at the front." I seriously did not doubt that. Commitment!

I retreated towards the back of the small space, sipping my coke, and ended up standing around awkwardly by the door, keeping an eye out for any spare seats. A girl with dark brown, curly hair walked past me looking around. She and I clearly shared the same mission. We started going on about how there really should be enough seats to bring out. She had also come on her own. We ended up chatting for the duration of the interval and after the gig. She happened to be Dutch so we talked endlessly about the Dutch Wicked. We were joined by a guy with bleach blonde hair whose favourite musical ever was Cats (I didn't find out the name of either of these people). They both had seen Louise as Glinda of course. As had just about every other person present.

A perfect-sized guy was standing in front of me: the top of his shoulder was level with my chin leaving me an excellent view of the stage. We began applauding for Louise to come on stage and I peered to the right of the stage expecting her to make an entrance. I felt someone take hold of my arms from behind and shift me gently to the left. I looked around, confused, and realised it had been Louise who had dashed past me having entered from the back instead.

She was incredible. I had originally fallen in love with her voice listening to her album but that was nothing compared to hearing her sing live. There is this extraordinary power in her voice that one does not exactly expect to come out of a small woman like her. It is also not a distinctly musical theatre kind of voice (even though she easily pulls that off as well) but very suitable for popular music styles. She sang Katy Perry, Rihanna, Adele, Justin Timberlake (Louise quote: "Well, I love Justin Timberlake. He sings very high. I can sing his songs in his key! I think that's impressive. Don't you?")...
I cannot even describe how much I wanted to start a proper rave but most people were sitting down so that would have been a little awkward. Louise expressed her astonishment at the fairly quiet audience. There was cheering and applause of course but not to an explosive extent.

When Louise finished for the interval, she made her way through the audience again and greeted me and the Dutch girl exactly as if she had remembered us from before. It made me smile even though I knew that it was simply not possible. She was the sweetest thing. Suddenly I could understand perfectly well why she had a group of loyal fans who went around following her. Louise did not only recognise her fans but she gave something back to them. Instead of acting like she was miles above them, she was with them.

Afterwards, Louise was kind enough to sign album covers for both me and my Finnish friend Saskia.

She is currently working on a second album which is due to be released in May and she is planning on having an album launch party (which I will make a massive effort to attend because it is promising to be epic...).

I have to give a mention to Louise's hilarious between-songs babbles. She had a box ("This is my box. [...] Even if this is an 18 event, I am not having anything inappropriate.") with her on stage. The audience had been given the opportunity to write some questions for her beforehand to put in there. She picked out and answered some of them:

Q: What question would you most like to ask your fans?
A: Where do you get all the money from?!

Q: What is your most embarrassing childhood memory?
A: Hmm... that's hard... I have a really disgusting one... please put the cameras away...
That eventually lead to Louise telling us stories about her and her friend skating down the road playing Starlight Express and fighting over who got to be Pearl and about her always being third in BMX racing - out of three girls.

Q: How many sugars do you have in your tea?
A: I have one sweetener. Unless I'm having a particularly naughty day. Then I'll have one sugar. Because you can't drink tea without sugar. And you definitely can't drink coffee without sugar...

*Louise unfolds one of the questions*: "I'm NOT answering that! We'll talk later. You know who you are!"
Cont. after the interval: "I showed the question everyone in my dressing room. They laughed. They said I should've answered it." (I am still in the dark as to what the question was.)

Other jewels:
"I'm coming out!"
"I mean, Louise, seriously. Stop talking! I think the band just needs to start playing because otherwise I will never shut up..."
*talks for a long time* "I am making an absolute tit of myself here."

Finally, a sample song by Louise (from a gig last year):

Summary: I had an absolutely brilliant time, Louise was amazing, I am hoping to meet some more of the Team Dearman people in the future and I cannot wait to see Louise perform again. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"It's all London, baby!" part 2

The People and the Language

In London, there are lots of people. This might sound silly, and you might say 'Oh yeah, I know there are 12 million inhabitants there'. Finns and people from other small countries: yes, you may know that as a fact but it is difficult to understand it if you haven't been to a big city before. It the same as not being quite able to grasp the size of London: you cannot quite grasp the amount of people everywhere. The feeling is rather claustrophobic when you try to walk down Oxford Street at any time of the day (there are tourists who sometimes park themselves in the middle of the street) or when you try to board the tube in rush hour. Sometimes I just get this overwhelming feeling sometimes of not being able to understand where all these people come from!

It is bewildering for a Finnish girl who comes from a very white surburb of Helsinki to be thrown into somewhere as multicultural as London. In my primary school in Finland I think we had maybe two Asian children and they both were adopted so no foreign children at all despite there being about 600 pupils. It was not that I was racist or that I did not want to make friends with people from different ethnic backgrounds; it was much more about not being used to people looking so different. I have gotten over that now, of course.

The Tower of London
In London everyone always seems busy. It gets worse the further into the city you get. However, the politeness that is very alien to Finnish people still remains. For instance, saying "Sorry" when you bump into someone regardless of whether it was your fault or not (generally you find an English person apologising for you stepping on their foot by accident). Another key rule is that you do not speak to anyone unless you have to or if you have something common to moan about. Say the bus is late or the train you are supposed to catch has been cancelled. That's when you are allowed to make a remark out loud and you will have people agreeing with you. On occasion it is acceptable to applaud and cheer to the bus driver as a group with the other passengers if you are on the bus and there has been a minor problem with the vehicle but the bus driver has managed to fix it. However, generally Londoners like their private, individual space. That said, if you are a tourist, you are exempted from this rule. Londoners are generally happy to help out tourists and because of the tradition of small-talk and because of the advantage the Londoner has with English being their native language, they probably come up with more to say to the tourist than vice versa.

To those people who do not think they are good enough at English: trust me, whoever you speak to, you are unlikely to be the least competent English speaker they have met. The English are not known for their skills in foreign languages so they are generally impressed with foreigners who make an attempt to speak English. You might even get an apology from them for only knowing their native tongue. I always found the general spoken English in London very comprehensible so that was at least helpful. Although obviously, London being the capital, it attracts people from all over the country so you may well come across accents that are a bit more challenging mainly if you are not used to them (e.g. those from the northern parts of England and from Scotland).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"It's all London, baby!" part 1

Perhaps the title is a cliché but I think it perfectly captures the excitement that is generally audible in people's voices (along with the jealousy) when I tell someone in Finland (or, indeed almost anywhere in Europe) that I live in London. "How is it?" people ask. "Do you enjoy it? What's the best thing about it? I wish I lived in London!" I thought I would actually write a series of blogs to give a small glimpse into the everyday life here - my main focus will not be on the tourist perspective and it will not be a travel story - rather, an informative account of London as I have learnt to see it during my 5 years of living here.
In short: I do enjoy living in London. To begin with it was a big culture shock and it took me a while to adjust but nowadays I love it!

And, excuse the photos, I felt rather compelled to use my own snapshots from 4,5 years ago so all the London photos have been taken with the Canon Ixus 55 and my undeveloped photography skills I had at the time :P

Location, distance and travel
I will start with this because I want to make it clear that only a very very small percentage of Londoners actually live in Central London. Many people work there but virtually no one lives there. On your first visit to the city, you will understand why. It is far too busy and noisy at every hour of night and day, it is very expensive and I am not exaggerating when I say that the first couple of times I went there, I could literally smell the pollution in the air. So where is it that I live? Greater London; Hampton to be more precise. That is in the southwest. People in Greater London do not consider themselves as living in London really. You may well hear someone from Greater London say "I'm going to London today." They mean they are going to Central London. However, for anyone who does not live in London in any kind of measure, they will just say they live in London, for clarity. But then, they do consider themselves Londoners. It is one of those things that you get the hang of and learn to use the appropriate expression.

For people like me who come from smaller cities (even Helsinki, the capital of Finland, counts as small here) it is pretty much impossible to imagine the size of London. When you see London from the plane window, it looks never-ending; it's just houses as far as the eye can see. This is why commuting tends to take a big chunk of a Londoner's time every day. Travelling an hour to work in the capital area is standard. That is the time I took getting to college each day (involved taking the bus and walking). That said, the public transport is very efficient at getting you to places (even though you will find that Londoners are always complaining about it). In London one survives without a car because public transport will take you anywhere you want in probably exactly the same amount of time as a car would (especially as you'd have to find somewhere to park your vehicle as well!). All this makes a person rethink their concept of a 'long' and a 'short' journey. In Finland a 30-minute continuous walk is a 'long' walk. Over here I would consider it relatively short. 

Here we have the infamous London tube map which I am sure everyone has come across at some point:

Click here for a larger image.
Against the contrary belief, it is not difficult to get around London by tube. It is by far the quickest way and much preferred to the bus (buses are great for sight-seeing but very slow as a mode of transport in the city centre). The signs at the tube stations indicating which line and which direction jumping on a train from a platform will take you are generally very accurate. I think that I have jumped on a train going in the wrong direction only once ever. What I have learnt: Always check the availability of the whole route before you travel, especially on weekends because there may be restoration work taking place and it might make you a good hour late if you fail to take it in account! Also, don't go London and ask for the "Subway" when you are looking for a tube station. You may be directed into a sandwich bar. 

Then there is the iconic red double-decker bus. I remember being terrified when I first sat in the front row on the upper level of one. It is so high you can't always see the car in front very well and it looks like the bus will crash into the back of it! A great experience though. A relatively cheap must-do when you visit London. 

And the final mention goes to the famous black cab (which nowadays are not always black as they may be covered in adverts). I have to admit I have never ridden one. They are very expensive and so generally only used by tourists.

What I feel I also need to point out about London travel is that it is very expensive for an adult. The current single bus fare stands at £2.30 if you buy it off the driver (buses charge by the number of buses you board and it costs you the same regardless of whether you travel two stops or 15 on that bus). If you are under 16 years old or if you are 16-18 in full-time education, you have free travel on buses and you can imagine me and my friends took full advantage of that when we still could! A return journey to London by train (aka 'Overground') from my house costs the price of a one-day travelcard, currently £8.50. So because already getting to London is fairly expensive, I do not generally go there just to hang out (most of my London visits are theatre trips). 
The Oyster card, i.e. the London travelcard that can either hold a seasonal travel pass or pay-as-you-go money.
I have learnt to enjoy long journeys, especially on the bus even though they felt frustrating to begin with. Usually I read (I don't suffer from travel-sickness at all) but sometimes I will just stare out of the window deep in thought or, if I'm really tired, doze of for a little while. While commuting you have the chance to relax. There is not much else to do! 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Finnish Culture Comeback - We have Nokia

After I discovered that I can actually see stats on what posts are the most popular and what key words people use to find my blog, I realised that there are lots of people who have come across my blog by trying to find out about things to do with Finnish personality and Finnish culture. If that's you then I am proud to announce that there will be more frequent posts about that in the future. 

Today I would like to draw your attention to mobile phones which are an essential part of the Finnish culture. We have Nokia which unfortunately sometimes is slightly behind other brands with the development of products but, frankly, many Finnish people still opt for a Nokia phone because they want to support anything that is Finnish. Or, alternatively, they opt for a Nokia phone because that is the only one they can navigate (it is so confusing with the menus of different brands, you would not think that but it is when you've only ever done it in one way!). 

Many Finnish children get their first mobile phone when they start school at the age of 7. I was nine years old when I first got one. It was my mum's old phone. My first brand new phone was a Nokia 3410 which I got for my 11th birthday. This is what it looks like today and, as you can see, it is still in full working order:

Okay, I am an extreme case, I admit. Most Finns do not hang onto the same phone for as long as I have hung to this. This model along with the 3310 (which was the more popular one at the time) became known as the unbreakable phones. If you go into a Finnish home today and turn it upside down, you are very likely to find at least one phone like this somewhere in the cupboard. It has not been thrown away because there is something wrong with it but rather because the owner wanted to update their phone and everyone had one of them in 2002-2003.

In Finland land line phones are fairly close to extinction as a great proportion of the population has at least one mobile phone. Apparently foreign people joke about the fact that Finns tend to have an extreme number of working phone lines. Quite a few have a work mobile and a personal mobile separately, that's true but surely this is the case in other countries as well. 

Another thing I have heard foreigners say about Finns and mobile phones is the fact that although Finns are fairly quiet and reserved, the way to get them talking (to check they are not mute) is to give them a mobile phone. Sit on a bus in Finland: all passengers will sit quietly unless their phone rings. They will answer it and discuss their dinner plans in, well, not a loud voice but there is no way in which you will not be heard in a silent bus.

Going back to having old mobile phones in the cupboards. You know how Finns have competitions for everything. I now present to you the Mobile Phone Throwing Championships (I have no idea why the video is without sound):


Monday, January 16, 2012

'Ghost the Musical' - Unraveling the secret of "Believe"

Based on the well-known film, Ghost (1990) (which, because I do not watch many films, I have not seen), this musical is a new one having been performed for the first time in Manchester in March 2011 and beginning West End previews in June. It is now due to start previews on Broadway in March with the original West End leads Richard Fleeshman (Sam Wheat) and Caissie Levy (Molly Jensen) having left the London production before the official cast change date in order to open the production in New York. So, bring on the first performance of the new leads!

Ghost the Musical at Piccadilly Theatre, London
Performance: 13th January at 19:30
Seat: Third row of the Grand Circle
Cast included: Mark Evans (Sam Wheat), Siobhan Dillon (Molly Jensen), Andrew Langtree (Carl Bruner), Lisa Davina Phillip (Oda Mae Brown, u/s), Ivan de Freitas (Willie Lopez)
Note: This was the first performance of Mark and Siobhan. 

Going to see this was rather a last minute decision. It was just before five o'clock in the afternoon when I spotted someone selling a spare ticket on Twitter and decided to just go for it (these are the moments when I cannot get over how lucky I am to be living so close to the West End). I was very excited as this was not only my first time seeing Ghost, but I would be seeing Mark as well. He blew me away with his voice as Fiyero in Wicked and he is one of my favourite musical theatre performers. 

Firstly, the front of house staff at the theatre were some of the friendliest I have ever encountered. I would happily go there again just for those smiley and polite people! Thanks, Piccadilly Theatre staff for that. 
It's a shame the people in charge of making the programme had decided to either be lazy or cheap and there were only a couple of pictures of Mark and Siobhan. The majority featured Richard and Caissie. I suspect they are waiting for the actual cast change to take place before completely redoing the programme. 

Both Mark and Siobhan were stunning. Siobhan's voice gave me shivers, it was so clear and pure and Mark sang amazingly, as always. There was also a nice chemistry between the two of them which was cute to observe. I think my favourite song was With You sung by Molly. It was absolutely beautiful. I would love to get a backing track I could sing that to. Here Right Now was very catchy. That's the one I was singing as I left the theatre. 
Also Lisa Davina Phillip did a great job of Oda Mae!

This musical reminded me of a contemporary film more than anything. The costumes were not that kind of fancy things one expects to see in musicals and it used video projections to set the scene. Most memorably, perhaps, the New York subway had been created using this method with actors sitting behind the curtain so it looked like they were on the train. Personally I prefer more traditional musicals (I was delighted over the slightly random tap dance number in the midst of the action) but I think Ghost is an interesting one to see for those who are into films. Still, I enjoyed the singing so I will be going to see the show for a second time. Ghost still engaged me to a great extent. I decided that after realising how frustrated I was over the fact that Sam could not communicate with Molly. If I did not care, I would not have felt so strongly about it. 

In true West End style I waited for the actors at the stage door afterwards. It was not crowded, perhaps partly due to the freezing cold weather. It was great meeting Siobhan for the first time. She is a really really lovely person. And Mark, well, I don't quite know why I still keep asking him for an autograph every time because I already have about five of them :P

Conclusion: I now finally understand what the slogans "Believe" and "Ditto", which have kept popping up in relation to Ghost, are about!

The trailer for the musical featuring the original West End cast:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

'La Cage aux Folles' Finland = Lainahöyhenissä

Yet another show ticked off my to-track-down-and-see list of musicals. Initially my dad offered to come and see this with me. I politely declined. Although I did not precisely know the story beforehand, I knew it would be about drag queens and would most likely contain a lot of sexual references. The kind of stuff you would not necessarily find so funny with your dad sitting next to you. So I opted to see this with two wonderful musical-theatre-fanatic friends of mine.
How better to pass the day of a New Year's Eve than by going to see a musical comedy? The Finnish title, Lainahöyhenissä, literally means 'In borrowed feathers' (Finnish is such an awesome language that those three words can be expressed as one).
Thanks to Riikka for the pic of the poster.
Lainahöyhenissä at Helsinki City Theatre, Finland
Performance: 31st December 2011 at 14:00
Seat: Stalls right, second row (Areena stage)
Cast included: Pertti Koivula (Georges), Sami Hokkanen (Albin/Zaza), Antti Timonen (Jean-Michel), Marika Westerling (Anne Dindon), Markku Haussila (Jacob), Eero Saarinen (Edouard Dindon), Leena Rapola (Marie Dindon), Riitta Havukainen (Jacqueline)

I had never seen anything on this particular stage before (the Helsinki City Theatre has a couple of different auditoriums so they can have several plays going on at once). The auditorium was fairly small and modern and the genius things was that we had so much legroom that we did not have to stand up to let people past us while in our seats. The majority of the audience were middle-aged and above. The funny thing is that that used to be the image I had of theatre when I was younger: Excluding plays that were specifically aimed at children, it was only older people who went to the theatre. I don't think going to the theatre is in the least fashionable in Finland. The Finnish production of Wicked may have brought together some theatre addicts from the younger generation but West End is still a whole other story. 

I would be very interested in seeing an English production of La Cage aux Folles now that I have seen this. I greatly enjoyed it and I would love to know what kinds of original choices had been made with the costumes and props. There were a couple of things such as a chair with a penis-shaped back rest and photographs of naked men on the walls which I did not consider to be out of place because... it was a Finnish production. Somehow that makes it okay. I just could not imagine the same happening in a Broadway/West End production (so I would be intrigued to hear about an English-language production or indeed another international production from anyone who has seen one). I guess that is because whatever happens in 'big theatreland' will make the headlines. Those productions will be seen by tourists who come from different cultures. There is more pressure for whatever is shown to be appropriate and accessible. In Finland the circles are smaller. The language barrier usually prevents tourists from going to the theatre in Finland so you feel like an insider when you are able to do it. I think that might be why the atmosphere in the Finnish theatres is so different compared to the West End and there is a particular bond between actors and the audience (fellow Finns are welcome to present their opinions on this). 

One thing that struck me about this musical was the plot that was surprisingly complicated for a musical. One could spot the French origin in it. It reminded me slightly of a production of Mark Camoletti's Don't Dress for Dinner which I saw last summer. It might have been a little dragged out but generally musicals can be excused for that. The plot was wonderfully funny and so awkwardly funny that I ended up putting my fist in my mouth (the equivalent of a face palm but without blocking my view of the stage) so many times that my hand was sore afterwards due to me having been biting it. For those who do not know the plot: In short, it is about an aged gay couple who own a gay night club and perform there. One of them, Georges, has a son who has found a girl to marry. The problem is that the girl's father is a famous political figure known for his anti-gay views. Somehow Georges and Albin as well as Georges's son, Jean-Michel, need to survive the meeting of these parents. 

The costumes were fantastically flashy and really grabbed my attention (I love sparkly things and have recently started wishing that I was good at textiles so I could attempt some replicas of my favourite costumes). The Cagelles (the backing singers&dancers at the night club consisting of six men dressed as women) moved so comfortably in heels and dresses that it was unreal. Not even just dancing but doing cartwheels and flips in those clothes. I can imagine that the guys must have had a ball rehearsing and that they probably have a ball every time they get to perform it. 
Speaking of men dressed as women, a honorary mention goes to Sami Hokkanen who flawlessly put on mascara and lipstick on stage while singing. The mention for the best singing voice goes to Pertti Koivula. I was not surprised to find out that he was a trained classical singer. 

One of my favourite moments in the musical: When Albin comes on wearing a white Marilyn Monroe style dress and a guy rolls a fan on stage and positions it behind him to make the dress flow like in that famous picture. 

Conclusion: Finns, go see it. It's entertaining and laughs are guaranteed. Warning you though, if you don't want to end up being asked to touch Albin's fur coat, you might not want to sit by the middle aisle in the stalls. However, if you sit in the few front rows, you might get a cheeky wink from one of the hot guys! 

Photos from the production can be found here:
Oh, and the trailer for the production can be found  on YouTube:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

'Wicked' - "Niets is wat het lijkt", i.e. the Dutch production

"You are crazy. I can't believe you're going all that way to see Wicked. Is it in Dutch? You don't even speak Dutch."

That, roughly, was the reaction of most people when I told them I was going to the Netherlands over the Christmas holidays to see the Dutch production of Wicked. In my defense, the flight from London to Amsterdam only takes an hour so it's not like I travelled a ridiculous distance, right? And, incidentally, I did study Dutch for those two months I spent at university not to mention that I speak Swedish which, as another Germanic language, helps an awful lot. Those who know me will also be aware that I know the musical rather well so at least I will not be lost with the story.

Now, one of the main reasons I wanted to make this trip was that I was inexpressibly keen on seeing Willemijn Verkaik as Elphaba. For those readers who have not hear of her, she is a Dutch singer who has also done musical theatre in the Netherlands. She became known around the world when she originated the role of Elphaba in Germany and then played her for three years in the country before coming to play the part in the Netherlands. In a poll, she was voted the favourite Elphaba currently performing (you can view the results of that here). Personally I love Willemijn's voice; vocally she had been my favourite Elphaba for quite a while so I was naturally interested to see whether her acting would match that and to hear her sing live.

I was very lucky to have help with obtaining tickets from our Dutch family friends (big thank you to them for also letting me stay at their house and for joining me at the theatre). I could not believe they were on the phone for half an hour in order to get us second row centre seats... I know I asked for "seats not too far back" but I never imagined second row. I was thrilled to hear it of course. Sitting at the front gives you the opportunity to absorb the action complete with facial expressions and the smallest gestures. However, it is not ideal when seeing a show for the first time as you are unable to see the whole stage at one glance so you have to keep turning your head. 
(A good justification for seeing a show for a second time: "I have not seen it close up yet!")

Wicked at Circustheater, Den Haag, the Netherlands
Performance: 18th December at 19:00
Cast: Willemijn Verkaik (Elphaba), Céline Purcell (Glinda, alt.), Jim Bakkum (Fiyero), Bill van Dijk (De Tovenaar aka the Wizard), Pamela Teves (Madam Akaber aka Madame Morrible), Christanne de Bruijn (Nessarose), Niels Jacobs (Moq aka Boq), Jochem Feste Roozemond (Dr. Dillamond)
Note: The quoted parts in italics are extracts from my travel journal. I wrote the entry right after seeing the show when it was still fresh in my mind.

Observation #1 at the theatre: The unusual seating plan. You can view it here. Look at the seat numbers: seats 1 and 2 of every row are in the middle, the odd numbers ascend to the left and the even ones to the right. It seemed odd to me until I realised that it might be a good system as the people with even-numbered seats can enter the auditorium from one door and those with odd-numbered seats from another door rather than having a guess-game as to which side the seats might be on as you sometimes have to do with the regular arrangement. In addition, when booking, you will roughly know how centrally you are sitting in relation to the stage rather than knowing how close to one end of a row you're sitting. However, the main problem with this arrangement: I don't know whether everyone in the audience will appreciate the ingeniousness of it. Signed: Initially confused theatre-goer.

The Wicked merchandise they sold was exactly the same as in London with the addition of the German soundtrack being available (no Dutch soundtrack has been made). At this point I might mention that the Dutch production is a replica so everything from costumes to scenery is the same as in the original Broadway production. The only difference is that the script has been translated into Dutch. 

I will attempt to do a bit of a chronological run-through and go into quite a bit of detail about specific bits in the musical so I apologise to those people who do not know the musical that well and who perhaps feel like they are a little bit lost. 
First though, I cannot contain myself any longer: Willemijn was phenomenal! She did not play Elphaba, she was Elphaba. It was almost freaky how natural she looked with a green skin and the detail in her acting was astonishing. She delivered some of the lines in a way I have not heard them done before but somehow it was very obvious why she had chosen that way of expressing it:

"Although I did not like the way in which Willemijn rushed the 'Do I have something in my teeth?...', even that made perfect sense as Elphaba would logically be irritated by having had to explain the same things to everyone she has ever met. It just did not give people any time to laugh which I think is the reason West End Elphabas usually break the rant up."

Already after Wijn samen zijn een (=The Wizard and I) I was convinced that Willemijn's vocals were as good as I had imagined. It was not her best song but it still made an impact.

Madame Morrible, Moq and Nessarose were all very good. Moq was the perfect height. Just slightly shorter than all the females in the cast. Nessarose had very long hair! From the front you could see it being in the way every time she turned her head. 

"I find it hard to pin down a reason for this but I thought Dr Dillamond was very good. I also got a confirmation for the fact that Dillamond really puts a piece of Elphaba's sandwich wrapper in his mouth and does not take it out on stage. Either it must be some kind of edible paper or he somehow stores it in his mouth and spits it out later."

"Dillamond pronouncing Galinda's name as 'Glinda' worked really well in Dutch because of the way the letter 'G' is normally pronounced in the language (note: it is sort of like in between a French 'r' and a German 'ch'). Obviously Galinda's name was pronounced in the English way by everyone else so not only did Dillamond leave the 'a' out but he also pronounced the 'g' in the Dutch way which I have heard other Dillamonds do as well but in this instance it made more sense."

No one cheered at Fiyero's entrance as I had been told might happen. Jim Bakkum became famous after winning a Dutch X-factor type of contest so lots of people do not take him as a serious musical theatre actor but he is popular with the teenage girls. He was not bad-looking and although for some reason most of the costumes did not look that flattering on him in my opinion, he still came across a cocky Fiyero type of guy so in that sense he suited the role. "Jim's singing was alright: he had quite a pop style voice but he did Dancing Through Life pretty well in my opinion."
"I really began admiring the training wand that Galinda receives. I have never before noticed the detail on that wand. Rather than simply being a white stick, it also had glitter on it, a round tip and a shaped handle."

"The blue sleeveless dress that Elphaba wore in this scene (that is Ozdust Ballroom) drew my attention to the skintight green, long-sleeved top that she wears underneath so she will not have to paint her arms green. It went around her thumbs in order to keep the sleeves from slipping up the arms and wrinkling. There was also a zip at the back which was surprisingly visible."

"Populair - Céline rushed this a little and she did not do anything extraordinarily funny with her performance. I liked the Dutch translation of 'Oh look, it's tomorrow!': literally 'Look, it's the next day!'. I think this made me understand the meaning of the original line better. I was surprised to find people laughed at Galinda asking Elphaba whether she could call her 'Elphie' rather than Elphaba's 'It's a little perky.' (the word might be difficult to translate). For 'You can call me Galinda', Céline did little circles with her hands in the air which I thought was good. She also added a lost-in-thought moment during the song after 'I know exactly what they need' which I am surprised I have not seen anyone do before because it was very effective. Céline's finish of the song (after Elphaba has run off) was great: she really caught the strong lower notes well. By the way, the correction Galinda did in the song was from 'lar' to 'lair' with the 'r' being very pronounced in the corrected syllable."

"In the train station scene a mention goes to Céline who, after declaring she was going to change her name to Glinda, curtsied, bowed her head and told Elphaba and Fiyero to shush while this went on. 'I've been thinking-' 'Yes, I heard' effectively triggered a laugh from a Dutch audience also."

"One of the absolute highlights of the first act was Elphaba's face when the Wizard's head shuts down after the Wizard has realised it is Elphaba who has come. 'Willemijn, that was absolute classic,' I thought in my head. The Wizard himself was amazing. To begin with, he was about half-a head shorter than Elphaba, he had his top hat slightly sideways on his head which contributed to the crazy-old-inventor-man-in-a-Disney-film' effect."

"Ik lach om zwaartekracht (= Defying Gravity), just one word: EPIC. I do not think I have ever heard the song performed as well as that. Willemijn's voice gave me the shivers already when she got to 'the rules of someone else's game'. She sang with so much ease; at no point did it seem like she had to work for the solid voice (just for the record: neither Elphaba nor Glinda sounded nasal in the least). She did not attempt to go unnecessarily loud either. She relied on the placement of sounds. Everything was beautifully controlled.  While Elphaba floated in the air singing, the lights added their own input to the scene: the white lights pointing at Elphaba and streaming across each other with some assistance from the theatre smoke somehow broke up into thinner rays glistening and flickering in various shades of rainbow. My seat offered me a view to one of the most amazing musical theatre experiences ever. My heart was beating double speed. That has never happened to me in a theatre before."

Céline in particular improved as the show went on. I had not been that impressed by her opening number in the first act. Yes, all the notes had been correct by themselves and she had a good voice but somehow I thought it lacked the flow of a song. Willemijn did very well in the second act too. I think the more mature, serious and suspicious Elphaba was a part more suited to her than the school-girl Elphaba of the first act.

"In my mind I congratulated Céline for her performance of Thank Goodness. She impressed me with that number. That song has never been the one I am particularly fond of but Céline actually made me like it. Definitely the song in which she shone. Fiyero was being very cute here with his arm around Glinda whenever possible. Fiyero's uniform, however, was much too loose on Jim and it kept sliding up so he had to keep tugging it down."

"As Long As You're Mine was good. Again, Fiyero's hands were in exploratory action. The kiss at the end was followed by Fiyero kissing Elphaba's neck before moving back to the lips."

"The word 'Wicked' had not been translated but left in English. I was told that the word really came out of the blue; that it did not make sense in the Dutch translation because Elphaba is not called a 'wicked witch' in Dutch. So the word was there because it was the name of the musical and it had to be tied in there somehow." There were also a couple of other expressions that had been left untranslated. For instance, Madam Akaber exclaimed "Mission accomplished" at one point. However, I was informed that in Dutch, it is common to use English expressions such as that so they all made sense aside from that "wicked".

"The catfight scene: Strangely enough, no one laughed at Elphaba's "We can't all come and go by bubble" and there were only very few chuckles at Glinda's "a lot of us are taking things that don't belong to us, aren't we" but Elphaba's subsequent line was received with a roar of laughter. Willemijn did one of the best witch cackles ever."

"For Good was a beautiful track. Céline had gotten better towards the end. Willemijn's warm mezzo at the beginning of her verse was absolute bliss to listen to. However, I did not agree with the way that Elphaba stood there pretty much expressionless while Glinda was singing. The early stage at which Elphaba took Glinda's hand was very sweet though: she already held it  at '...and just to clear the air...'."

The audience (because I enjoy observing cultural differences)

"The behaviour of the audience overall was politely restrained compared to an average West End audience. After the opening number they clapped only briefly and there was no cheering despite Glinda's high notes at the end. The applause died very quickly allowing the performance to continue."

I have to say that I had to focus in order to stay with the crowd so I did not keep clapping by accident. However, the audience made up for the quietness at curtain call:

"The entire audience was on its feet before I knew it, as if by command. I was astonished when Madam Akaber got a big cheer, bigger than the one the Wizard got, but it turned out upon retrospective inspection that Pamela Teves has acted in some well-known Dutch TV series. The two girls on my left began screaming when Jim took his bow; my ears died a little. 'So those were the Jim Bakkum fans I was warned about,' I thought to myself."

"Céline and Willemijn naturally got the biggest cheer and applause, Willemijn being the main trigger as because evident when the ladies took their separate bows. Céline laughed at the massive thank you Willemijn received."

Below is a recording of Willemijn singing Ik lach om zwaartekracht at the roof of the Circustheater (11th Oct 2011). Genius idea to promote the show I think!

Bloopers (because I know everyone enjoys reading them)
  • In What Is This Feeling?, Elphaba and Galinda got so close to each other at one point that their voices were picked up by each others' microphones as well as their own resulting in a double amplified sound. 
  • In Dr Dillamond's class scene when he has dismissed the students, Elphaba pushes Nessarose's wheelchair to the side telling her to go ahead. The strap of Elphaba's bag got stuck in the wheelchair and Willemijn had to fiddle around for a little bit to get it off. 
  • In Dancing Through Life when Fiyero threw Boq's book, it did not fly off-stage. Instead, it hit the wing and landed back onstage. 
  • After Fiyero and Elphaba had run off and Glinda turned to go complaining about a headache, Glinda's wig was not properly on and some dark brown hair was visible from underneath it.
  • The blooper I was happy did not take place: At the very beginning when the monkeys come on stage and one of them swings on a rope. He did not fall off. If he had, he would have fallen on me. 
Conclusion: The trip was worth it! I will now continue learning Dutch so I have a good reason to not only go and see Willemijn again but also to see other Broadway/West End musicals in Dutch. I reckon that can only be good for my language skills.

Click for more 'Wicked' NL wallpapers

Website of Wicked Netherlands:
Disclaimer: Only the second picture from the top has been taken by me. The rest I do not own, they belong to their rightful owners. Those pictures can be found here. The video also was not filmed by me.