20 marraskuuta 2011

Phantom of the Opera - Budapest, spring 2010

I'm not a huge fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber, but PotO is my favourite of his musicals and besides Cats and Sunset Boulevard the only one I really like, especially music-wise. I've seen PotO once before, in London, and mostly the Hungarian production was a more impressive experience.

The production is probably the only one in at least Western countries that looks different than the original production, and I must say I prefer the Hungarian look. I had quite high expectations because Kentaur has designed the sets and costumes and I've loved everything else I've seen from him this far, and I definitely wasn't disappointed this time, either. The visual look is more realistic and beautiful and somehow lighter (as opposite to heavy) than the original that slowly starts to have quite a 1980's air in it. Generally it's refreshing to see something newer than the sets and costumes I already know too well. My favourites were the lake and the Phantom's cave, the office of André and Firmin, the Opera House's roof, and Point of No Return which took place in gorgeus monastery-like sets. There's everything necessary on stage and nothing more or less. Kentaur can create a perfect atmosphere with very simple things and seems to be the master of creating impressive and beautiful sets out of almost nothing, and they don't even look cheap. Like, the monastery-like PonR sets I admired turned later out to be made of a one-dimensional canvas. I was totally fooled by them on the first time, the perspective worked perfectly and made everything look 2- or 3-dimensional.

Attila Csengeri was probably the whiniest and most baby-like Phantom I've ever seen. If Christine had stayed with him, she would have had to tie his shoelaces, hold the handkerchief and tell him to blow his nose, and generally be his mother. He was so whiny that the sudden bursts of rage couldn't be taken seriously anymore, because he was basically just a kid whose mother hadn't bought him candy. I wanted to slap him and tell him to pull himself together. He wasn't even lunatic and angry enough for my taste, just a pathetic angsty case who couldn't really take care of himself. Besides, his voice definitely wasn't enough for the role and he wouldn't have seduced anyone with it. He looked quite good in black leather trousers, and that's pretty much all the positive I can say about him.

It was interesting how Christine-centered the performance was, at least for me and with this cast. Christine (Renáta Krassy) wasn't the air-headed innocent victim she usually is - this Christine had a good deal of common sense and a will of her own. Had she had a chance to fight with Carlotta, she would have told the diva to shut up and f*ck off. I really strongly got the feeling that the story was mostly about Christine and her attempt to get over the death of her father. It sometimes even felt like the Phantom-parts of the story were mostly happening inside her head, and for her the Phantom really was the Angel that her father had sent. At its strongest the image was in "Masquerade". You know there's a part in which Christine dances a wild twirling dance with Phantom-like masked people? In this production the rest of the cast was frozen during it, so it really seemed like Christine's dream that she was experiencing in completely her own world, a bit like only Elisabeth sees the Death in "Der letzte Tanz". After it she ran horrified through the groups of still people and woke them up again by touching them. I've never really cared for Christine, she's usually been one of the most boring heroines out there, but now I was actually fascinated by the character. Krassy also sang well, although I've also heard better Christines. Being blonde herself, she also had a blonde wig, and I appreciate the theatre for making their actors look like individuals and not trying to clone them.

Bálint Magyar was a good Raoul with very believable Raoul-like looks and a nice voice. Raoul wasn't an idiot or a fop or anything, just a normal sensible young nobleman who likes this girl he has known when they were kids. I usually say that Raoul and Christine deserve each other in all their brainlessness, but in this case they made a very good couple because both could think and were equal. One detail I really liked was in the end of "All I ask of you" when Raoul and Christine kiss. He didn't just jump on her and give her a big smack; they both hesitated, left each other time to back out if they wanted to, and in every way made it look like their first very careful kiss.

Later we saw the show with a different cast. We were supposed to have Viktor Posta as Phantom, but he was replaced with the 1st cast Phantom, Sándor Sasvári. I must say I wasn't disappointed at all, he was the best Phantom I've seen this far. Not perhaps his voice, because I've heard better ones and the voice alone wasn't anything that special. I mean, he sings well and technically things were fine, but when I'm listening to the CD I don't get the baritone sex drooling effect that PotO could be at its best. Just ("just") a good voice. He wouldn't seduce me with it.

But good heavens, the man has charisma. It works pretty much like a sock filled with sand. It knocks you between the eyes and, perhaps differing from the sock here, it owns your soul for the next week or so. You couldn't help staring at him every time he was on stage, or paying attention to his acting even when you could only hear his voice. His angel-of-music-ness was very much based on the charisma, but it worked perfectly. His stage presence was amazing.

I really liked Sasvári's acting. Phantom is a damn hard role to do so that I can believe in the character and not just roll my eyes. It's very easy to be too emo, too angry, too angsty, too crazy or so on, but Sasvári had a very good balance between them. Even the parts that often feel ridiculous (Phantom playing the organ and generally being Passionately Artistic) were natural. And his Phantom was hot. Not in the Gerik way, because we're now talking about a 53-year-old heavy-built man and not about an oiled 30-something action movie actor, but in the way Phantom should be hot. His general being simply told you that he's hot, and you had no choice but to believe. (Pretty much the same way his being told you that he sounds like the Angel of Music, and you simply believe.) I could have melted during Point of No Return.

Um, yes, there were other actors on the stage, too. Before the show I was most curious to see Gábor Bot as Raoul, because based on his Krolock and Chagal it's hard to imagine him as Raoul. Then again, if he can be believable both as Krolock and as Chagal, it maybe tells something about his acting skills. He was a very adorable Raoul, friendly and dutiful and as smart as a Raoul can be, considering that it's he who suggests the great Let's Catch The Phantom plan that can only fail. I wanted to pet Raould and could totally imagine marrying him and living happily with him ever after. I can't connect anything very erotic to him, but a woman could easily have a balanced and peaceful marriage with him. He wasn't annoyingly stupid or too nice and blue-eyed. I like the way the director has handled Raouls and Christines here, they have brains.

Andrea Mahó as Christine wasn't as strong-willed and commanding as Renáta Krassy, but she also wasn't a passive idiot. I don't know how she'd be with Attila Csengeri as the Phantom, because in this performance she had very strong men around her. I didn't pay much attention to her because the men stole most of it, but generally I really liked her acting and singing and have nothing to complain.

I liked the rest of the cast, too. André was adorable, and Carlotta had impressive croaks. And I do mean croaks, she wasn't just going "graah" but really imitated a frog very well. It actually seems that we had Mónika Safár as Carlotta on both times, though there was some other name in the list on the first time. I like her, she's not overacting too much. I'm amused because she was the original Sisi in the Hungarian production of Elisabeth, while Sándor Sasvári was the original Franz Joseph. Now I can't get rid of the image of Phantom doing the whole Operation Soprano already with Carlotta when they were younger. No wonder he's so bitter and cynical nowadays.

Another detail I have to mention is the very ending with Meg Giry. I've never liked the original "Now I make a very exaggerated half-kneeling ballet pose and lift this mask theatrically up so that everyone can see it", so I was very glad to see Meg take the mask and the rose, put them on the ground, and then kneel behind them with her head slightly bowed as if she was mourning/praying for the Phantom.

This time they even had the boat in the title song. In my first performance the thing apparently didn't work, because the Phantom carried Christine across the lake. I noticed that there was no boat, but nothing seemed to be wrong and the scene looked so natural that I just thought that the Phantom doesn't have a boat in Hungary because the lake can be crossed without it. They used it in the later scenes, though.

The managers are hilarious. Firmin is played by a very lively elder man who pinches ballet girls and likes to be the centre of attention. Kentaur has made them dress up as owls in the Masquerade, and especially Firmin likes to leap around cheerfully and go "Huuuu!" (or whatever an owl says in English).

Later I also saw Viktor Posta as Phantom, but he wasn't very impressive in the role. Decent, but nothing special.

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Cats - Madách Színház, Budapest, Spring 2010

Cats was fun. It's not my favourite musical ever, but it's a nice feel-good musical and it was enjoyable to see it live on stage. I've never seen the musical before (except the London DVD), but again the Hungarian production seems to be slightly different from the usual style. I think the sets represented the back alley of a theatre, because the garbage bins had lots of decadent stuff in them and there was a big broken chandelier on the stage. It looked like something Firmin and André had thrown away after some unfortunate incident with the Phantom. The chandelier also served as Old Deuteronomy's throne. Géza Egyházi was playing OD and looked like a hairy Moses in big white sneakers. He kept holding his hands up in a very prophetic way when he walked, which after a while started to look funny, but it seemed to belong to the role. His singing was lovely, though, and this was the first time I've actually enjoyed listening to the Finale that usually bores me.

The other cast was great, too. Especially I liked Bustopher Jones / Gus the Theatre Cat. Bustopher was very cultivated, lived in a theatre's carbage bin and seemed to adore things like opera and ballet instead of food. The pirate scene with Gus was amazing, I don't know what did it but I kept staring to the stage half-hypnotized and I still don't know or remember what was actually going on there. The cat actually reminded me of Salieri in the nice Amadeus production I saw a couple of years ago in Finland. Grizabella seemed quite old and had a lovely voice, alto or something like that, and her Memory didn't sound like you had heard it a thousand times before, which is always an impressive achievement. Another Grizabella I saw later wasn't half as good, but I can't remember their names.

I couldn't identify all the cats because some of them sang different parts of songs than what I'm used to. For example, I still don't know which cat was Bombalurina, which Demeter and which Jemima, because the song bits were divided very oddly between three or four female cats. There also seemed to be two Munkustrap-like cats, and two Rum Tum Tuggers. I really liked one of the Bombalurina-Demeter-Jemimas, but I have no idea who the actress was. She kept snuggling with the other Munkustrap, which I believe is Demeter's thing, but I also don't know what's Demeter's name in Hungarian.

So, the production is definitely worth seeing, no matter if you have seen the musical before or not.

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09 marraskuuta 2011

Rudolf - Affaire Mayerling - Vienna, March 2009

In short, the musical sucks. It has some nice songs and moments, but overall it sucks. I don't think I've ever seen a worse storyline in a musical, it's pointless and boring and feels stretched and far-fetched. The first act was mostly okay, but somehow I started to really dislike the musical during the second act and by the final scene I wanted to punch someone. I saw the musical twice and this happened on both times. I usually like Wildhorn's musicals to some extent, and Jekyll&Hyde and Dracula are one of my favourite musicals ever, despite the silly plot of Dracula, but Rudolf must be the worst I've heard of him.


I hate the story. It could work as a really fluffy and plotless Romeo and Juliet musical, if someone hadn't come up with the idea of having Crown Prince Rudolf as the main character. The story hasn't got much to do with Rudolf as a real person, the name just gives the male lead a reason to sing angsty solos between the romantic scenes so that the romance won't be the only story material. There's nothing interesting in the story, nothing very surprising or funny, no development, it's just romantic fluff for brainless teenaged fangirls who like to wear a heart-shaped necklace with the text "I was born to love you". No offence to teenaged girls, it's more the musical that offends them for underestimating the audience's ability to use their brains.

I don't see anything romantic in committing a suicide together and I hate the way it has been made to look like the ultimate sign of love. It also doesn't suit the story at all and feels extremely forced, no matter how much Rudolf plays with the gun during the whole musical and Mary keeps going on on how it's better to die quickly than a bit every day. After the ten-minute happy love song in the end they could have perfectly well escaped together and live happily ever after in their pink fluffy world, but because someone decided to name the characters Rudolf and Mary, they suddenly have to climb to a bed surrounded by candles and the rest of the cast and shoot themselves. Couldn't get much cheesier. In the first performance people started to cheer when Rudolf and Mary died, and I happily joined them.

The scenes with Crown Princess Stephanie and Marie Larisch were almost the only that were worth watching, the ladies were witty and easily the most interesting persons of the musical even though the actresses didn't have much chance to develop their characters. They also had the nicest songs.

Random notes:

- The obligatory brothel scene is way too long. And wtf, how can a 17-year-old baroness suddenly come there in a corset and stockings without it being a huge scandal?

- Frank Wildhorn, what happened to your ability to make great ensemble songs?

- I'm sure we can see the bright red box with the Important Paper even when you don't make it glow in the dark.

- Stephanie in a church with the heart urns of Habsburgs: "I occasionally come here to remind myself that also Habsburgs do have hearts". One of the best lines of the musical. Another one was when Stephanie saw Rudolf and Mary discussing in a ball and went "I see you're fishing again, but I thought one is supposed to let back the ones that are too small".

Good things:

The actors. They're good and save what they can with the poor character development of the story.

The sets. They're beautiful and I often found myself concentrating on pretty visual things instead of following what the main characters are up to. The colours were beautiful, with lots of blue, dark red and for some reason green, and I loved it how they used the red curtain that occasionally divides the stage. The only staging that didn't work for me was "Fäden in der Hand", it felt ridiculous. Also the ending was awful, I wonder why the bed wasn't heart-shaped because it would have made the überromantic effect perfect. The skating scene worked very well and looked great.

The costumes were quite nice-looking, too, though for some reason Mary's costumes had really weird colours. She dies in a shiny silvery dress that looks like taken from a cheap scifi movie set in 1800's.

The music is quite nice, but apart from about five songs I can't remember any tune of it. I like Wildhorn's catchier upbeat songs, but his love and angst songs seemed to be even lamer than usual. Mary and Rudolf had especially boring songs to sing, even though "So viel mehr" surprised me by being one of the rare Wildhorn's love songs that I actually like, mostly because of the beautiful refrain. Taaffe's songs could have been good without Uwe's shouting, and generally the smaller characters had much better songs and scenes than Rudolf and Mary.

The cast:

Drew Sarich - Rudolf: He was good, as good as a Rudolf can get with that material to perform. He sounds nice, though he doesn't exactly match the idea I have of Rudolf. I totally cracked up when Rudolf wondered if there is a land where princes are not slaves, because it made him sound like a 13-year-old boy whose mother has told him to clean his room. At that point I lost my last respect for him and couldn't take the musical seriously even the little I could before.

Lisa Antoni - Mary Vetsera: For some reason Mary's character does nothing for me, I don't have any sympathies for her even though I normally like strong female characters. She just wasn't very believable as a strong female character, she was more like a silly girl with some political obsessions. I also didn't understand the "I'm a strong and independently thinking female character with political inter- OMFG Rudolf let's die together because it's romantic!" idea that they seemed to have, it was like watching two different Marys. Lisa sang mostly prettily and acted well and got big applauds, but her songs are boring and so is her character.

Uwe Kröger – Graf Taaffe: A bit too much arrogance and "Uwe plays the bad guy"-stereotypes, though later Uwe started to have some self-irony in the role, too. His voice totally wasn't enough for the role. "Fäden in der Hand" didn't sound as horrible as I had feared, but the duet with Mary was awful, even though I like the song itself. They were both more shouting than singing the song, and I had to hold my ears during the refrain, because it hurt. Taaffe also seemed to have quite a close relationship to the globe in his office, he was hugging and kissing it. The audience loves Uwe, no matter what he does and I admit he has charisma, but I appreciate my ears too much to wholly join the opinion. I used to like Uwe as Death back in the Essen times, but he simply can't sing anymore and didn't impress me with his acting, either.

Wietske van Tongeren – Crown Princess Stephanie: I liked Wietske as Stephanie, she had spark and I could totally understand why she was so frustrated with Rudolf. Her solo "Du bleibst bei mir" made Stephanie sound like a possessive bitch, which annoyed me a bit because I don't see her as that, but I like the melody of the song and it's one of the few I still remember.

Carin Filipcic – Marie Larisch: She saved my evenings with her scenes. Carin is adorable, she's got charisma and her voice is awesome and I even liked her songs, so it's a pity that she didn't have much to do in the musical. Larisch seemed to have quite a close relationship to Rudolf, they were almost kissing when he came to give his letter to Mary and they acted more romantically in that scene than Rudolf and Mary ever.

Claus Dam – Franz-Josef: I liked him, even though his songs aren't that interesting and seeing FJ being dramatically angsty and desperate felt weird, because my image of him is quite calm and passive.

The rest of the ensemble was good as well, although for some reason I couldn't much hear what they were singing and saying. I don't know if the problem was in the theatre's sound systems, but even though I understand German I couldn't understand most of what people were saying. I've seen most of the actors before and know that they can articulate, so I don't know what was wrong now. On the other hand, what I did understand didn't impress me that much because the lyrics aren't exactly a masterpiece, so perhaps it was better this way.

So, it wasn't worth the money, except perhaps for the 5,60 € I paid for a Stehplatz. The first row in the middle of the 2nd balcony was almost empty so I sneaked there and had an excellent view.

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02 marraskuuta 2011

Joseph and the A.T. Dreamcoat - Budapest 2008

Joseph - Sándor Nagy
Narrator - Judit Ladinek
Pharaoh - Attila Barát

First, do check out Madách Színház if you go to Budapest. The theatre building is one of the most beautiful and fascinating ones I've ever seen. All the walls and even some ceilings are covered in half-surreal detailed paintings and the architecture is magnificent. I could have spent hours just looking at the paintings.

Joseph is not my favourite musical in the world, I have some CDs and the official video with Donny Osmond and Maria Friedman, but I was curious to find out how the Hungarians have done it. I was not disappointed, the production is hilarious and I got a stomach ache after all that laughing.

As usually in Budapest, the actors were great. I had hoped to see Attila Sérban as Joseph, but Sándor Nagy was nice as well. There's something in Sándor's voice/singing that annoys me and I don't think he's even that cute so I have sometimes problems in understanding what people see in him, but the role suited him very well and I have no complaints with his acting.

I really, really liked Judit Ladinek as the Narrator. Usually the Narrator's songs hurt my ears because I've never heard an actress who wouldn't shout the higher parts or otherwise sound quite horrible in them, no matter how pretty her voice normally is. Judit, on the other hand, had a slighly lower voice, she didn't shout and sung by her the songs sounded very good. She was the carrier of the obligatory Wide Hungarian Cleavage of the musical, but even looked from the 2nd balcony she didn't pop out of it, which I'm very happy about.

As far as I know, the Pharaoh only has one big solo in the musical. Because Hungarians apparently have to do always at least something differently than everyone else (and the theatre seems to have a habit of adding Elvis into every production possible), they had added another solo for him. It was something called Szívkirály, King of Hearts, and in it he apparently angsted how it's hard to rule the country, win the people's respect and so on. In the end of the song he randomly kissed the Narrator. Attila Barát was ýour basic good Pharaoh and he had some very funny moments, especially with Joseph.

The rest of the cast was great as well, especially one or two of Joseph's brothers. I have no idea who they were because I don't know which brother is which, but their acting, singing and stage presence were awesome. The child choir really impressed me, they danced and acted better than half of professional adult actors in Finnish musical productions.

The most impressive part of the production for me were the sets. I hadn't even noticed that the set designer was Kentaur, also the same genious who did Vámpírok bálja, but it really showed. Not in the style, because the two musicals are almost as different as two musicals can be, but (also) Joseph had some really clever stuff in it. Most movable set pieces were quite simple and had a bit school play-ish feeling in them, but they worked in the context extremely well. I had never imagined that I could laugh so much at a singing soft toy snake or a wooden camel on wheels, but everyone was practically rolling on the floor with laughter. The sets were in a way also very international; in the hunger angst song the brothers were in Paris and in the end they jumped into the Seine. The party after Joseph's "death" happened in a western village. I think it was Benjamin's Calypso that went from Hawaii to Mexico, and all this with really simple but clever paper front pieces hanging on the actors' shoulders. Some of the scenes were so absurd that you just couldn't help loving them. The production definitely didn't take itself too seriously.

My only complaint is that they didn't know where to end things. I don't necessarily need an encore of the finale of the first act, and the music is not that great that I'd like to listen to different encores and see an endless row of non-related dance scenes for about 25 minutes in the end of the show.

But go and see the production if you have a chance. It may be "just" light and fun without any deeper hidden meanings, but it knows it and takes everything out of it.

I'm endlessly amazed of how well Hungarian kids behave in theatre. There was a class of about 10-year-olds sitting around us, and they all sat quietly and nicely, concentrated on the play, and were dressed properly in suits or dresses. The only disturbance I experienced was when the little girl right behind me was so absorbed in the story that in an exciting part she leaned forward and accidentally grabbed my hair a bit. ;-)

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