perjantai 6. huhtikuuta 2012

Les Misérables - Kecskemét, Hungary (December 2011)

Warning for die-hard Les Mis fans: I'm not one of you, though I've learned to like some aspects of the musical, thanks to the two good though different productions I've seen. I only got familiar with the show a year ago and I'm still in the process, so let me start with some of my thoughts about the musical in general.

A video reportage about the show with lots of performance footage:

Unfortunately the story does nothing to me, I can't really relate to any of the characters and their problems. Besides, the musical is too explicitly moving for my taste: all that dying in a lonely spotlight after a miserable life and a heartbreaking solo feels too emphasized and calculated for me, like they'd be flashing a "Cry, bastard, cry!!!" neon sign in front of me, which just leaves me cold. (Yes, I also roll my eyes at films like Titanic.) There's too much pathos and squeezing out feelings for my taste.

One problem is also the length of the musical. Especially the Thenardier scenes feel too stretched and like telling the same joke over and over again, even though all the actor pairs I've seen have been excellent. The source material (ie. The Brick, as fans lovingly seem to call Hugo's novel) is too long to be covered easily in a musical, which leaves me with the feeling that they've had to rush through the plot, and the character development and depth has had to be sacrificed. Being the story-oriented person I am, it disturbs me. I don't really like the musical as a whole, but it has enjoyable moments, nice songs and scenes that work well.

I've also learned to like some the music, especially the ensemble songs, though Bring Him Home is still on the top of my dislike list. I must admit Géza Egyházi's rendition was beautiful, though, but still the song is too slow and painfully high.

Zoltán Miller & Réka Koós
Off to Kecskemét and the Katona József theatre, then. Despite the aforementioned opinions I in the end enjoyed the show, mainly thanks to good actors.

The production was a non-replica, but the directing felt a bit idea-lacking, though technically there was nothing wrong with it and I liked some details. It just annoyed me how everything was explained and ready-chewed and I didn't have anything to think about. Like, there was a text "Building the barricade" projected on the stage and after that we saw, well, the building of the barricade. Some scenes later the projected text was "The barricade" and we were shown a very clear and barricade-ish barricade. No shit, Sherlock? Generally the director was simply showing what happens in a way that didn't leave much room for your imagination.

The sets also showed us everything, every brick wall and gate and tree and building. The sets were elaborate and some of the scenes were very impressing and beautiful, but there were too many set pieces, props and moving parts, and after a while the constant re-arranging of the stage and changing of sets started to steal attention from the actual story and broke the atmosphere. I've usually liked Kentaur's set designs, but Miss Saigon and now Les Mis were a bit disappointing.

Géza Egyházi & Andrea Mahó
The Cast

I saw two different casts, though Géza Egyházi was Jean Valjean on both times. The cast I saw on the first night was rather horrible, and I'm ashamed to admit it but kept checking my watch to see when the badly sung and dragging story would finally end. Luckily on the second night the bad choices had been replaced with better actors and the evening included much less watch-checking.

Jean Valjean - I'm not exactly the fangirling type of person (anymore?), but ever since I saw Géza Egyházi as Count von Krolock in Tanz der Vampire, he has been one of those names that lure me to see shows I otherwise perhaps wouldn't. So far I haven't been disappointed, and his Jean Valjean was no exception. I sometimes have the feeling that JV is confusingly naïve and easily fooled by people like the Thenardiers, but Géza!JV had more guts. I still don't get much out of the character, but at least I was fairly interested in his fate and even felt a bit moved in JV's death scene. Needless to say, I also enjoy his voice greatly.

Javert - Gábor Péter Vincze as Javert didn't impress me at all. He sounded harsh, didn't hit the right notes, didn't act that much and had zero chemistry with JV. He's apparently a big name in Hungary, so either he had a really really bad night or he's highly overrated. Zoltán Miller, on the other hand, was heavenly as Javert. He had a lovely warm baritone that blended nicely with Géza Egyházi's voice, and the men had chemistry with each other and made the story between JV and Javert much more interesting than on the day before. Besides, Miller is rather handsome. :-P

Szandra Fejes, Péter Puskás & Attila Pál
Fantine - Melinda Hajdú on the first evening was okay, nothing special but nothing to complain, either. Réka Koós, on the other hand, rocked my world in the second performance. She's one of my favourite female voices, strong and clear, and her death scene where she had hallusinations about Cosette and seemed so tragically happy about meeting her child again was heartbreaking.

Marius - Péter Puskás was the positive exception in the first show. His voice is a bit pop-band-like, but I really liked his Marius. He seemed quite introverted, thinking and mature, and he very clearly had his doubts about the whole revolution thing right from the start but his loyalty to his friends (or something) made him join them anyway. His bitterness in Empty Chairs was touching. Péter Orth in the second show wasn't very special or interesting and his voice was even more breathy and pop-style, but he might attract someone who likes cute pop boys.

Cosette - Andrea Mahó was Cosette on both nights and I definitely didn't complain. The woman has an angelic voice, she suited the role well and didn't make Cosette annoying though she was innocent and, well, Cosette-ish. I've also seen her as Christine in PotO and liked her, she doesn't make the roles overnaïve.

Eponine - Nóra Trokán, the first night's Éponine, was another sad case of missed notes, but at least she acted quite nicely. Again, Zsazsa Réthy in the next evening sang much better.

The Thenardiers - Both Teréz Csombor & László Sirkó and Szandra Fejes & Attila Pál were entertaining and slimy, though as I said, I feel the roles are too big.

The barricade boys
Enjolras - This production had some kind of an Enjolras problem. Zoltán Kiss on the first night felt like a 45-year-old eternal student who didn't seem like he'd have enough charisma and positive leadership even to get his friends to a pub, let alone to barricades. Imre Aradi in the second show sang better and felt far more enthusiastic, even though he looked a bit too old, too. Many of the other students were also closer to middle-aged. Confusing.

After the first performance I was afraid of how I'd ever manage to sit through the show a second time next evening. Without Géza Egyházi, Péter Puskás and Andrea Mahó I might have fallen asleep. Luckily the second evening was much better and interesting, and I left the theatre with the feeling that I might even want to see this cast again.

Production homepage
Photo gallery one and two
A photo gallery in Facebook

7 kommenttia:

Elwingda kirjoitti...

My attitude towards 'Les Mis' a little bit like yours. As in, I do kind of understand why there are so many die-hard 'Les Mis' fans but I am not one of them myself. I've only seen the musical once, in the West End and this was just before Christmas (Ramin Karimloo as JVJ and Hadley Fraser as Javert). Like you, I'm not usually taken by excessive crying/tragedy. Although I did enjoy the musical, I could not quite pin down why I liked it.

All the points you make about rushing the story are very true. The programme I bought when I went was trying to summarise the story in two columns and bits of it did not quite make sense to someone who did not already know the musical.
But, as you said, there are some great ensemble numbers such as 'Do You Hear the People Sing?' and the cast I saw was incredible. Ramin absolutely nailed 'Bring Him Home'.

You mentioning that they actually projected 'Building the Barricade' made me laugh! :P Funny stuff people come up with sometimes.
I hope I will have the chance to see a different production at some point, just for comparison. Or maybe go and see the London production again after a cast change to see a different approach. Well, I still do want to go and see the musical again so I guess there is just something hypnotising about it :P

ihmepensas kirjoitti...

Elwingda: Glad to hear I'm not the only one! I used to try to listen to recordings every now and then but they didn't really catch my interest. Then I heard so much praise on the Åbo svenska teater production in Turku that I decided I should give it a try. I didn't like the musical itself even there, but the production was darn well made, so it helped me to overcome my worst suspicions about the musical. ;) There's indeed something fascinating in the musical, at least with good actors.

I must say I'm a bit jealous about Ramin Karimloo and Hadley Fraser! I'm not their biggest fan, but they impressed me in the PotO 25th anniversary concert.

Siiri kirjoitti...

But nothing is more fun than crying your eyes out! Now, if there only were a musical of the movie Titanic, then I could die happy... ;)
Oh well, to be serious - even as a huge Les Mis fan, I think I can see where you're coming from. The 2nd act especially is designed to be a huge 1½h long emotional trollercoaster. You! Will! Feel! Very! Sad!

Different casts can do wonders. I know the checking-your-watch feeling, even I kept doing that in Malmö Opera. Good that the second cast was better!
It's weird how even in every second non-replica Enjolras is wearing exactly the same vest. :P

Looking forward an ÅST Les Mis review now... :D

ihmepensas kirjoitti...

Siiri: I'm afraid I'm a cynical bastard when it comes to touching stories. ;-P I've never cried in musicals, movies or for novels, though oddly Chess in Budapest was one of the rare shows to nearly made me cry. A single scene that moves me when it's well done (like in Seinäjoki) is the Red Boots / Prayer scene in Tanz der Vampire.

I guess Enjolras is easier to spot among the barricade boys when he's wearing something bright. :-P

Mme Flore kirjoitti...

Thanks for the great review!

I too have quite mixed feelings about Les Mis. I also think the plot is just too rushed and I have never seen a Cosette or an Eponine who wouldn't annoy me. With good actors, there are a couple of scenes that manage to move me, though - mainly Fantine's death and Empty Chairs, and the very end of Act 2 may have that effect as well. But although I always cry when watching movies like Titanic or reading sad books, for some reason in theatre, and especially with musicals, the attempts to make the audience cry feel somewhat pretentious.

(And that's one of the weird things about Tanz in Seinäjoki. I didn't think I'd see the day when Gott ist tot nearly makes me cry.)

ihmepensas kirjoitti...

Mme Flore: I agree on Gott ist tot. With good actors (Jyri Lahtinen, Géza Egyházi, Thomas Borchert) it tends to put me to a kind of trance, but Jyri was the first to make it actually moving. I partly blame the human choir part in the end, though, I loved the idea of putting living (and dying) humans sing it because somehow it added so much more to the meaning of the scene and the lyrics.

Most of the Cosettes and Eponines I've seen have actually been quite good, though neither of the characters is a person I'd be very interested in. The ÅST Eponine was excellent, and while the Kecskemét Eponines were nothing mind-blowing, they were okay too. I disliked most characters on the 25th anniversary concert DVD, but these Hungarian and Finnish-Swedish versions had IMO a bit more in them and were far less annoying.

Siiri kirjoitti...

I actually understand you. Even though Les Mis is my favourite musical and Titanic one of my favourite movies, I don't cry at either. I must be the weirdest fan! :D

I once cried at Tanz though. During the overture. Because the train had been very late and I had only had a few minutes to run to the theatre - I was so relieved I didn't miss the start I started sobbing...