Once at the Hartwall Arena, we found ourselves seated in an odd bubble of Swedish culture. The concert was somehow very Swedish, with a cheerful and positive tone embracing the whole world. At the first notes of Kristina från Duvemåla, people started applauding. Everyone around us was speaking Swedish, either the Finnish dialect (Swedish is the 2nd language of Finland) or Swedish Swedish. Jöback's concerts were sold out in Sweden, so no wonder that some people had decided to do a weekend trip to Helsinki. All around us cheek kisses were exchanged and cheerful Swedish discussions had.
In the general Nordic atmosphere, the very American guest star Hugh Panaro felt slightly out of place, like Ridge Forrester dropped into Allsång på Skansen. I know who Panaro is but I'd never seen him in anything, and he turned out to be a positive surprise. Nice strong voice with deepness, solid performances, perhaps a slight lack of personality hidden behind a big smile. Panaro balanced out the boyish and more pop-tenor-sounding Jöback. I'm not a huge fan of Jöback, even if he can definitely sing well and act and do a show. I simply don't like the sound of his voice that much, but he was a good master of ceremonies for the evening and I can see why he has lots of female fans.
While the men were mostly okay with some highlight numbers here and there (Panaro's Wild Grass from Kristina, Jöback's Gethsemane where his voice worked really well), the true stars of the evening for me were the ladies. I've been a fan of Helen Sjöholm for years. Hers is one of the very few female voices I could listen to singing a phone book through. Clear, strong, deep, pure, smooth when needed - just perfect. Emmi Christensson has the perfect Christine voice, young and beautiful and clear, and she nailed her songs perfectly.
The setlist was a mish-mash of popular Broadway musicals with a touch of Björn&Benny and a rarity or two. Nearly four hours long, the concert definitely gave value for your money, but I could have done with a little less of the obligatory, performed-to-death classics like Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and The Threepenny Opera. It felt like they were trying to squeeze the history of American and Swedish musical theatre into one evening. A lack of theme is a common problem with musical concerts, since the genre is vast and then you easily get only the same popular hits performed again and again. After the brilliant encore songs from Kristina, Climb Every Mountain as the final encore was something of an anticlimax.
The amount of Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd, Passion, A Funny Thing Happened..., West Side Story) was a nice surprise, though, and I'd have loved to hear the Being Alive (Company) by Jöback that was listed in the program but had been replaced with Why God from Miss Saigon. Helen Sjöholm singing Nothing's Gonna Harm You from Sweeney Todd could be made a form of therapy. The Phantom of the Opera had a nice rock arrangement, and Music of the Night as a duet by two men was a fresh decision.
Kristina från Duvemåla and Chess were the absolute highlights, though. Helen Sjöholm's Du måste finnas is a must-hear, and Jöback's Ut mot ett hav beautiful. They also shared amusing memories from their time in Kristina 20 years ago. Their reprise of You and I from Chess right before the pause wrecked me. By the lines "Yet we go on pretending / stories like ours / have happy ending" I was reduced to a puddle of emotional mess. I don't tend to be emotional or to cry in theatre, but Chess is my exception. The melodies and lyrics enter my brains and leave me in a state where I stagger to the foyer with shaking hands and a head-to-toes muscle cramp.
The orchestra, Stockholm Sinfonietta, was excellent, too. In addition to listening, I spent quite a lot of time enjoying the sight of the conductor David White's fervent baton slashes and flying curls.
All in all, a fun evening with top-quality performances of more or less good musicals.