perjantai 21. lokakuuta 2011

Tanz der Vampire - Seinäjoki, Finland (10 September 2011, premiere)

Warning, this is going to be long. First some general impressions that are probably perfectly enough if you're a lazy reader, after that the cast/characters, and then some specific scene descriptions for the hardcore fans who want to know more about how things are done in this production.

© Ari Ijäs / Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri

General impressions:

Vampyyrien tanssi is easily the best musical production I have ever seen in Finland, and tops most musical productions I have ever seen anywhere, including the big international stages in West End. It's done with love, passion and devotion, every detail has been thought of, the atmosphere is unbelievable. Granted, the theatre is quite small and they don't have resources for sets as huge as in Germany etc., but they make that up with lots of creativity and sense of style and have chosen the quality-over-quantity approach. And it works. I thought I would compare it to the standard directing when watching but in the end I didn't, and I think that's the best way to watch it, as an independent production. It has its flaws of course, but nothing major, just a detail or two like Sarah's too red wig.

To those who wondered it, the storyline and the songs follow the basic European productions and there have been no changes for example in the text. Olli-Matti Oinonen's directing highlights different things and brings a different mood into the musical, but the basics are still there. The directing concentrates very much on characters and their feelings: how the characters relate to each other, how they interact, what their motives are, how the motives are displayed and how the characters react to the happenings and the world around them. In that sense it feels more like a play than a musical spectacle, it gets more directly into your feelings, is more realistic and strips everything out of the light sugar coating that sometimes defines big musicals like this. It's a fairy tale for adults, amusing and beautiful, but feeling-wise there's also something very rough and brutish behind it all, quite a cruel undertone. Characters like Professor Abronsius, Herbert and Rebecca are no caricatures but real persons, and the humour comes from what they do or say, not from what they are, if you get what I mean.

The ensemble is excellent, there aren't weak links in there. The Finnish translation (by Marika Hakola) is a bliss to listen to, it has depth, wittiness and style and it fits the mood of the scenes perfectly.

The sets (by Marjatta Kuivasto) are beautiful. The crypt is impressively gothic, the library huge and very library-ish, the big staircase effective, and the castle itself is solid and stark and has a very brutal feeling in it, with two big fire torches at the iron gate. Chagal's inn, on the other hand, is a clever and cozy collection of stairs and different levels and family photographs.

I also really like the costumes (by Leena Rintala). Sarah has a plain white dress (and an awfully red wig, it looks a bit weird but the actress is so good that she could wear old mop on her head and still be awesome), and her red silky ball gown is beautiful. The Professor is wearing a brown suit, and Alfred goes around in the familiar red coat and white trousers. Herbert is deliberately over-the-top, pink and fluffy and laced and adorable. Krolock has a long black fur-edged cloak only for outside use, in the castle he wears long coats and looks deadly stylish. And his hair is absolutely gorgeous.

© Ari Ijäs / Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri
The Cast:

Count von Krolock - Jyri Lahtinen: What a voice! A velvety baritone with both opera and popular music background, and as a Krolock he's a good mix of the both and can effortlessly (so it seems) sing the role perfectly. Definitely one of the best singers I've ever heard in the role.

Lahtinen's Krolock is a noble gentleman; cultivated, polite, sexy, a tiny bit sarcastic when needed, and definitely dangerous. Krolock is at first kept as a bit distant mystical figure that’s spirit kind of haunts the inn (not literally, just my feeling), but gradually his multifaceted personality and being is revealed more and more to the spectator. In Unstillbare Gier he's a tortured almost-human, at some point lying on the ground on his side/back and singing, but when he bites Sarah the savage beast inside him comes out. The bite scene is relatively harsh and brutal. These clearly are no nice and romantic ittybitty Twilight vampiwes – these are Vampires, closer to the old-school horror movie type.

Professor Abronsius – Esa Ahonen: An excellent actor and an excellent singer, one of the stars of the show. This Abronsius is not silly, daft or senile but clever and sharp as a knife – at least when it comes to his theories. He's also very fixed to his scientific goals and tends to forget everything else. Something in him reminded me of British comedy. He's subtly funny and has perfect timing, and he has quite an attitude to his work. Easily one of my favourite characters in this production.

Alfred – Ville Salonen: A sweet, sympathetic young man, well-meaning and innocent, loyal to the Professor and Sarah but also searching for himself. I hate stupid Alfreds and Salonen thankfully isn't one of those; his Alfred is just sometimes a bit helpless and, well, young and new to the world. It's lovely to see how he grows during the story. Salonen nailed Für Sarah perfectly, his voice is awesome. His comical timing also worked perfectly. Salonen is older than Alfreds usually but you don't notice it from him on stage, he's the type of guy who'll still play 20-year-olds believably when he's 50.

Sarah – Raili Raitala: An adorable, down-to-earth Sarah with strong will and strong voice. The role very easily becomes a Christine-like emptyheaded girl who just follows this cool handsome man, but Raitala avoided that nicely and made Sarah a strong young woman seeking for her own freedom, even if the cost of it would be her death. I loved her in Die roten Stiefel / Das Gebet, the decision between the safe home and the wild freedom felt so real.

© Ari Ijäs / Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri

Herbert – Jouko Enkelnotko: Herbert is probably the biggest shock for those used to the standard productions and their pretty-boy Herberts. You know the teenaged girl type with too tight trendy clothes, too much make up and badly blonded hair with dark root growth? Mix that with a 1,90 m hairy robust man and a lot of pale pink or cream-coloured silk and satin and lace, and you have the Finnish Herbert. I know it sounds unbelievable, but the character works extremely well and is probably the most Herbert-y Herbert I have ever seen in my life. You just have to see it. He's grotesque, daddy's spoiled little princess, used to get everything he wants. Like his father, Herbert is oozing danger, and I felt so much pity for the somewhat hypnotized Alfred when Herbert took his hand in the Act I finale and led him in the castle. Enkelnotko's Herbert already has a horde of fangirls, and I don't wonder it. You can't help loving him.

Chagal – Heikki Vainionpää: Probably the only actor I did not like very much. Vainionpää sings very well and his human!Chagal is tolerable, but the character doesn't feel funny. He overacts too much for my taste, licks his lips and giggles and runs around, and his funny lines fall a bit flat. In vampire!Chagal it becomes even more clear.

I do like it how much Chagal and Rebecca (Leena Rousti) feel like a married couple here, though. They dance together in Knoblauch, clearly have fun and like each other, but Chagal apparently happens to be the type of person who can't settle with one woman. You can see that the Salami Scene has happened dozens of times before with different girls.

Rousti's Rebecca kicks ass, by the way. Rebecca is not an old ugly hag but a normal middle-aged, albeit rather strong-willed woman who probably is the person really running the inn. Rousti is an excellent actor and a great comical talent with an impressive voice. I very nearly started to cry when she mourned over Chagal and Sarah. Rebecca can also hear the vampire choir going "Sei bereit!" which makes me think that she may have been in Sarah's situation herself in the past but has chosen differently than her daughter will. She's also clearly a loving mother, cares for Sarah and is worried about her. Generally there's a lovely family-like feeling among the innkeepers.

Magda – Anne Vihelä: Magda definitely had some girl power in her. Now when I think of it, she came across almost cynical. She had a cold in the premiere, but her voice is powerful and I liked hed Tot zu sein ist komisch.

Koukol – Antti Railio: The Finnish Koukol is not exactly a hunchback, he reminded me more of the classic Igor-kind of manservant of gothic horror stories. Railio is a big man and he's made even bigger with a thick fur coat and a top hat. With all that fur and beard there was something almost animal-like in his appearance. Reminds me of shamans.

© Ari Ijäs / Seinäjoen kaupunginteatteri

Next some scenes that are different from the standard production. Don't read further if you're going to see the production and don't want to know details yet.


* Even in Nie geseh'n Chagal and Rebecca act as kind of a team. Rebecca comes down from their room and accidentally hits the Professor, who collapses on her arms. Chagal comes from Magda's room, sees Rebecca "hugging" the Professor and does some half-hearted "And here's my wife with another man, what a disgrace!" mimicking. I may be wrong, but I think they did some "You take him! - No, you take him! - Dammit, this is bad for our business!" kind of panicking and pushed the unconscious Professor back and forth. Finally Chagal takes the salami and knocks out the waking Professor, whom they then push back to his room. Problem solved. Rebecca takes the salami back and concentrates again on Chagal who runs to sleep.

* Gott ist tot: Krolock sings in a pale spotlight behind a transparent canvas (there's probably an English term for it), with everything else being dark. During the choir part he walks across the stage in the dim light, still behind the canvas, and around him there are human couples slowly dying, trying to comfort each other, hugging and lying on the ground. It's also the humans who sing the choir part (ie. repeat Krolock's words) which I like awfully much, because it in a way brings the worlds of humans and vampires more together and shows that there's partly the same pain on both sides. On the other hand the lyrics also get new meanings when sung by humans.

* In the Prayer scene Rebecca, Magda and eventually the whole village's women (might have been some men, too, but not Chagal) come outside the inn, clearly to pray for Sarah to stay with their God and in the safe village community. In the end Sarah turns and is indeed about to return to her mother, but then hesitates and stops. Rebecca sees Sarah's face, and she clearly realizes that her daughter has decided to go and there's nothing she can do to stop her and keep her home anymore. The desperate Rebecca stutters back to the inn and Sarah escapes to the castle. I adore the scene, it shows so well how an individual struggles between staying as a part of the safe community and going out to search for freedom.

* The Professor snores. The first notes of Carpe Noctem soar in the air. Someone invites you to share their night in a high, clear, heavy-metal-like voice – and that someone is Koukol. With a top hat, fangs and a huge whip. The sight made my jaw drop, but it works perfectly, and the contrast to the growling Koukol who brings breakfast after the scene is impressive. It also adds a nice extra layer to Alfred's horror when he wakes up and sees this creature that two minutes earlier controlled his nightmare by lashing around with a whip.

But back to Carpe Noctem, which continues with Alfred "waking up" in the bed and joining his own dream. There is an Alfred double who does the actual dancing, but also Alfred himself is drawn into the dream with the Sarah Double and the Black Vampire and is attacked by the vampire ensemble. Alfred and his double have some very nice moments when they look at each other and interact, but I'd need a video and ten repeats to remember all what is going on in the dance scene. It's great, anyway. There's Herbert and Magda singing their own solos (Herbert has a pale-pink corset), a group of decayed vampires dancing around and so on, the usual stuff as well.

* Alfred and the Professor walk on front stage in search for the crypt, when the stage suddenly starts to rise and with it rises the crypt from under it. Alfred and the Professor remain on "the roof" and look down to the crypt, but the Professor is too frail to manage to go down, so Alfred goes to the coffins. Krolock and Herbert really are in the coffins, so it's not just dolls. When Alfred drops the hammer and the stake with a noise, both suddenly sit up, open their eyes in mild surprise (but are still clearly asleep) and then fall back to sleep. In the performance I saw Herbert rolled over to hug his pillow.

* The Ball: Alfred and the Professor don't knock out anyone, Alfred just steals a bundle of clothes. When Krolock has come down the stairs and the attention is focused on him, Alfred and the Professor pretend to be guests coming late. Koukol, who seems a kind of a night club bouncer, starts to take a closer look at them but they nod to him and greet him happily and he loses his interest. Alfred is wearing a pirate-ish costume with an eye patch, and the Professor is dressed up in a black, velvet-glittery ball gown, completed with a pretty hair accessory with some ivy leaves. The sight is rather priceless. He doesn't seem too happy about his disguise, but when Alfred faints the Professor fans him with his hoop skirt, and when they escape, he lifts his skirt and triumphantly moons to the vampires (he's still wearing his trousers, don't worry).

* We see Koukol running across the stage a couple of times after the escaping dinner. At some point the Professor lets Alfred and Sarah run on, draws a long sword-ish knife from his umbrella and stabs Koukol, who stutters offstage. The Professor looks at his knife with a "I'm a theory-loving scientist, what the heck did I just do?" expression and sits down while Alfred and Sarah sing the Draussen Reprise. And boy, do those two have fun as vampires, they're all over each other. In the end they leave their separate ways, though, Sarah through one side of the auditorium and Alfred through the other, randomly "attacking" the spectators.

Oh, and Koukol sings in the Finale, too, wearing fangs.

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