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:

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