Hi everybody! Before reviewing Wicked I'd like to say this: Remember to vote in the the contest!
The premiere of the world's first non-replica Wicked, Helsinki City Theatre, August 26th
In my opinion, Wicked is a really odd choice for a Finnish theatre. I don't know how right I am believing everybody in the USA has seen or read The Wizard of Oz, but I know I'm right saying that it's not common to find a Finn who has seen the movie, and the book is virtually unknown. While I like the musical I was quite certain no one was ever going to put up a production here. Firstly, doing a replica would be way too expensive for all our theatres, and secondly, what's the point doing a show based on something so many people don't know about?
So, I was really surprised when I found out Helsinki City Theatre was going to do a non-replica (though Stephen Schwartz has apparently been working pretty closely with the director of this version, Hans Berndtsson) Wicked and quickly bought premiere tickets for myself and my friend. Prepare for a long text!
I've never been to a premiere before. It was not that different from a normal evening at the theatre, if you don't count the press stand with free green drinks to journalists, the TV cameras, the celebrities (oh well, not so much, I only recognised about three) and the actors playing the monkeys climbing along the walls. So, our mood was great even before entering the auditorium, and we had great seats too, in the middle of the balcony.
The first thing we saw of the show was the familiar map of Oz with Finnish texts as the curtain, but the dragon hanging over the stage was missing. Then the lights started to dim...
No One Mours the Wicked - Emme kaipaa pahaa - We Don't Miss Evil (The logic for the song names is as follows: Original Name - Finnish name - Translation of the Finnish Name when needed.)
During the overture the monkeys did some acrobatic tricks on the sets that are really hard to describe: they were like four towers that kept moving around the stage - see a picture at here. The clock theme was still present and there was a clock-like figure painted on stage. On the sides of the stage there were arc-like structures decorated with coloured LEDs.
When No One Mourns the Wicked started I was really surprised that Dorothy walked onstage in her movie costume and Toto in a basket and Glinda, played by Anna-Maija Tuokko, explained how she had killed the Witch with the help of her friends Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion. That was of course so the Finnish audience would understand something from the plot, not knowing the book behind it.
Glinda was wearing something quite different from the lovely princess gown of the original, and I'm not so sure if I like the chance. Her dress was a somewhat weird bronze-ish thing, see the picture at here. Her bubble, however, was made of clear plastic and I really liked it better than the West End one, even though this one didn't shoot bubbles itself, but the bubbles were blown from the sides of the stage.
Dorothy was given the role of the person who questions the nature of wickedness. The Witch's birth scene was quite similiar to the one in West End.
Dear Old Shiz - Vanha kunnon Shiz
No huge difference from the original, if not counting the differences in costumes, which can be seen at here. I liked how they had changed the school uniform so it was no longer a mess of same coloured garments of every shape and size, but everyone had the same deep blue jacket over a grey skirt or trousers - except for Galinda, who had a lighter version of the jacket that matched her skirt, and Elphaba, who had the jacket but a different skirt. Also, maybe it's a notable change that Elphaba doesn't wear classes in this version.
The Wizard and I - Minä ja hän - Me and him
The Finnish Elphaba, Maria Ylipää, got to show of her beautiful, powerful voice. Shivers ran down my spine... The whole audience loved it and this song got the hugest applause of the night.
What Is This Feeling? - Syvä, voimallinen tunne - A Deep, Powerful Feeling
It's hard to find anything to say about this song. I like the tune and the scene was pretty much the same than it was on West End.
Something Bad - Matkan pää - The End of the Journey
Dr. Dillamond, Heikki Sankari, was very sympathetic, and I also liked the costume better than its original counterpart (see a picture at here). The "Animals should be seen, not heard" revelation was modernised a bit: here Dr. Dillamond was switching (oddly biology-related, since he's supposed to teach history, I guess) slides of photography and found out the message had been scribbled on the most of them.
Dancing Through Life - Elämän tanssiaiset - The Ball of the Life
Fiyero, Tuukka Leppänen, was wheeled in by his friend in a golden wheelbarrow, which I found quite amusing. My friend asks me to add that his dance movements were very smooth, and I'd like to agree - we liked watching his dancing maybe a little bit too much, the both of us missing Elphaba's entrance to the ball completely when staring at the other direction... I also liked his costume. I admit having no idea what he wears when he arrives in the original, but the I-slept-in-this-costume feeling and the tribal detail on the shoulder (see the pic here) that later reveals as a copy of a tattoo on his shoulder looked good.
Elphaba's party dress was a bit different (see at here) from the original and the hat was a bit smaller. Galinda's pink party dress was also a bit smaller and less puffy than the original, but otherwise she looked the same to the flower in her hair.
I also loved Galinda's practice wand when it lit up and made a sound like Buzz Lightyear's laser. The moment when she comes to dance with Elphaba was really touching and it was fun to watch the two lauging together with a girlish glee to the end of the song, leaving Fiyero upset and confused (what I didn't like, though, was that the aforementioned upsetness and confusedness made him stop dancing).
Popular - Suosio - Popularity
The audience really cracked up when Galinda announced she was getting married with Fiyero, collapsed on her bed and shrieked loudly into her pillow. Her toss toss routine was hilarious too! It was also quite sweet how she gave Elphaba a kiss on the cheek before telling her she is beautiful - I'm not sure, so I'd be grateful if someone enlightened me: does this happen in the original, is it maybe a reference to the book or did they just come up with it themselves?
I'm Not That Girl - Mä en oo hän - I'm Not Her
Before this scene when Fiyero and Elphaba talk about her being Galindafied Fiyero was lying on a bench and fell down to the floor. When talking in the intermission I found out both me and my friend thought this was the most hilarious thing ever, but since the auditorium was so silent, neither had the courage to laugh...
The way how Elphaba stood in the rain with no cover was way too obvious here: my friend, who had seen the movie (because I told her to) realised right away Elphaba wasn't water-soluble.
One Short Day - Päivän vain - Just for a Day
There was the second big change in the book this version of Wicked did: the Wiz-o-mania was taken out and replaced with a nightclub scene with laser effects. Makes sense to me! I never really liked the Wiz-o-mania thing anyway, it seemed pretty stupid to me have a musical inside a musical.
Otherwise the scene was pretty much the same than in West End with the ensemble dressed in imaginative green costumes. Elphaba's costume had little cheery lilac details and Glinda wore a skirt and a jacket that I liked better than the original yellow reprise of the Popular dress. See the picture at here.
A Sentimental Man - Tunneherkkä mies
The Wizard didn't appear in the golden head anymore. Here he descended to the stage in a giant eyeball with a red iris (a sculpture of the eyeball could be seen in the background of the scene where Fiyero arrives, by the way). The Wizard himself, Eero Saarinen, wore a more relaxed outfit than in the original (see at here).
EDIT: A hateful Finnish critic helped me to realise the Finnish Wizard is supposed to be an allegory to Stalin. I don't think that works so wonderfully. I know the director tried to make the story closer to Finnish history, but I'm not certain if this is the way to do it. It's not too obvious, though, since I managed to miss it when I saw the show.
Defying Gravity - Painovoimaa murtamaan - To Break the Gravity
I had been a little worried about how the translator, Sami Parkkinen, could handle the showstopper number. After all, "defying gravity" is almost impossible to translate so that it fits the rythm and sounds sensible! He went with "painovoimaa murtamaan", "to break the gravity", which has a syllable more than "defying gravity", but they had adapted the song in a way that it wasn't noticeable if you didn't count the syllables. I'm glad the translation worked that well.
The scene itself had pretty spectacular effects. The broom flew to Elphaba so elegantly that, from the balcony, I was convinced it was actually floating with no wires. And when it came to Elphaba's turn to fly... I'm still not quite sure how they did it! In the original it's easy to get that there's a lift hidden in all that fabric under her, but here you could see her legs in the air, too (as can be seen in the pretty bad picture at here or at the artsy one at here). The air around her was filled with fog and bright white lights (no lovely purple-turquoise colour scheme here), but she seemed to be floating in mid-air. I'm sure it was even more wonderful if you looked it from the stalls - I've always thought it takes a part of the spectacle of Elphaba flying away when you're sitting higher than where she rises...
Thank Goodness - Päin hyvää - Towards good
I bet the second act was a bit of a nightmare to the translator, and it doesn't work quite as well in Finnish as it does in English. We don't, for example, have a phrase like "thank goodness", but around here you say "thank your luck." So, the translator had to go with a new idea, and he settled with "päin hyvää/towards goodness", which is a play on the phrase "päin helvettiä/towards hell" (an expression used when something goes all wrong: "The test went towards hell, I didn't pass!"). In my opinion, it doesn't work quite as well as the original, but it's not that bad.
In this scene, which there are no pictures of, Glinda had a white dress with a bell-shaped skirt and long gloves that slightly reminded me of a wedding dress. Fiyero's Captain of the Guard costume was green and pretty much like its West End counterpart, if I remember correctly.
Madame Morrible, Ursula Salo, I might add, had quite a different style than in the original, but the theme was the same: when the show progressed her hairdo kept going bigger and bigger and the costumes more and more outrageous.
The Wicked Witch of the West - Idän ilkeä noita
Antti Lang's Boq was quite sweet during the whole show, and Vuokko Hovatta's Nessarose really seemed pretty crazy in this scene. No big changes from the original other than costume-wise: Elphaba, for example, gets a lovely dress with red details and small transparent parts in the sleeves, as can be seen in the picture at here.
Wonderful - Loistavaa
There was a detail in this scene that turned the usual witty social commentary to pure insanity: when the happy music during which Elphaba and the Wizard dance in the original plays, there's no dancing. Instead, the Wizard's eye rises away from the stage to reveal big plastic balls with people dressed in little white undergarment type clothing inside, as in the picture at this link. In the programme they're called embryos. The Wizard releases them from the balls and they crawl around the stage (with the happy music still playing in the background), they roll away and none of the incident is mentioned ever again. Maybe this was the director's attempt to comment something wrong with the modern society, but I've no idea what he was trying to say...
As Long as You're Mine - Sut hetkeksi sain - I Got You For a Moment
Visually this was a nice scene, with a set of trees first introduced during I'm Not That Girl descending to the stage and with Fiyero looking good in without his jacket and its marks of honor and with his tattoos, as in this picture.
But the direction of the scene... Guys! You're singing about how you want to hold each other in your arms and kiss each other from here to eternity. So, tell me why in the world there has to be at least fifteen feet of empty space between you at all times before the last refrain? You could even hold hands or something!
No Good Deed - Ei koskaan enää hyvää - No Good Ever Again
Another translating problem. We don't know the phrase "no good deed goes unpunished" here and have nothing similiar, so the song lost something of it's message in translation. Since there, sets-wise, doesn't happen quite a lot, it's just Elphaba singing (very nicely, I might add) for three minutes, this space is maybe better used if I tell about the previous scene.
We saw Dorothy again when Glinda sent her off to follow the yellow brick road. The reference to Toto was removed due to no one getting it. The scene got hilarious when Elphaba and Glinda were about to fight. Glinda's girly fight movements and the really funny "swoosh" sound effect when she waved her wand around in a martial arts like manner were so great that they made the audience cheer for her. Unfortunately Elphaba didn't have time to answer to that before Fiyero arrived! At this point, Glinda has changed into her white princess costume, complete with a crown on her head, as can be seen here.
The March of the Witch Hunters - Noidanmetsästäjien marssi
To be honest, I don't have the slightest idea how this scene looked like when I saw it in West End. Here, however, it looked awesome, with every witch hunter waving a big flashlight around in a seemingly random rythm and with fog filling the stage.
For Good - Tuun aina muuttumaan - I Will Always Change
Translator nightmare #3. The "for the better - for good" play with words doesn't work in Finnish. That takes away a lot from the lyrics, but I also got the feeling the translator didn't feel all that inspired with this song: I didn't catch a reoccuring motif. To me it felt kind of like the translator had a lot of kind of good ideas and threw them all in. Might be I'm wrong, of course, since my memory's not that sharp I could remember the actual lyrics.
Anyway, in my opinion this scene went a bit wrong in the clothing department. Glinda had the bronze dress from the beginning again, and Elphaba had a sleeveless orange dress. The dresses looked pretty similiar, and I think they were chosen to underline the women's friendship and how they're not that different in the end. Unfortunately I didn't think neither of them were flattering to their wearer.
The Melting - Sulaminen
The melting scene was absolutely beautiful, one of the greatest-looking scenes I've ever seen in any show! A ring of actual fire lit up around Elphaba, which looked really great. Then Dorothy with her gang ran in and threw the water on her. The stage filled with smoke and there was an absolutely beautiful effect where they projected blue light on the fog so it looked exactly like Elphaba was disappearing under the surface of water. Agreed, it reminded me of drowning, but it was so beautifully executed that I'm not complaining in any way.
Finale - Finaali
Glinda was back in her bubble and the finale looked very much like the original version. Unfortunately this scene, when the sets where wheeled away, was the first point when you noticed how small the ensemble was compared to the huge stage. It wasn't notable at all when the big sets made the stage look smaller, but here, looking at the handful of people in the middle of the empty stage, it became a bit disturbing.
The show ended beautifully with all lights exept a soft spotlight on Elphaba going out, and then, a second after, everything becoming dark.
Judging by the CAPS LOCKED, exlamation pointed!!! comments from the theatre's website Wicked is already, a day after its premiere, gaining a fanbase in this country.
However, in the premiere there were only four people attempting a standing ovation, me and my friend composing a half of them. I thought it deserved it, and when the people next to us (judging by how they were comparing different Elphabas during the intermission, probably the biggest fans in the audience) jumped up, I just had to follow. Solidarity between musical fans! Granted, it's not a Finnish custom to do standing ovations in theatre, but I thought premieres would be different.
Also, screaming isn't a Finnish custom neither, but a lot of the audience were cheering when the main actors came to take their bows. The director had asked us to scream loudly if we liked it at the introduction a couple of days ago, maybe we just did what we were told to do!
Well, then our Fiyero, Tuukka Leppänen, signalled the audience to calm down and told us he had the pleasure to invite Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman, the composer/lyricist and the writer of the book, to the stage. Finally the Finnish audience got some energy and all the people in the stalls and some people on the balcony stood up, clapped and screamed! Then, inevitably, the curtain came down.
I thought the actors were awesome and they sung really nicely - especially Elphaba, Maria Ylipää, had a powerful voice. As usual, my favourite was Tuukka Leppänen, but here I wasn't quite as enchanted as in Cats and Mary Poppins. I guess it has to do with Fiyero not being that exciting a character, though. After all, this is a story about the women and Fiyero is actually just a supporting love interest. The show could've done with a bigger ensemble, but I can see the theatre not wanting to pay to an endless number of people for standing on the stage in crowd scenes.
In a way, I was a bit surprised how there weren't so great differences between the original and this first non-replica. Maybe the biggest difference were the sets. I liked the tower-like sets better than the originals and thought it was awesome how they moved around the stage with no visible guidance or wheels. Then again, despite the programme stating there were "really faint echoes" from Finnish history in the production, contrasting the way how The Wizard of Oz can be seen reflecting American history, I noticed nothing. Well, maybe they're just really, really, really faint...
But in the end, I enjoyed every moment of the show, and that's what matters!
The programme from the theatre
The theatre's homepage
Pictures © Tapio Vanhatalo, from Helsinki City Theatre's picture bank for journalists
I'll be happy to answer all the questions you come up with - that is, if you managed to get through my stream of consciousness and still feel like commenting!