Last year I found out that my favorite kind of vampires—the not-sparkling, dancing, musical kind—would be visiting a town called Seinäjoki, Finland. So I did what any sane person should do: I got busy and started making plans. Eventually other people were convinced that going would be a good idea, so a date was picked, and tickets, flights and hotels were booked. Then the great wait started.
And then, finally, last friday, I was sitting in a small theater, in a small town, somewhere up in the snowy, desolate wastes of Finland,* and the house lights went down and the music started. Nearly three hours later, I was pretty euphoric. It took some effort not to jump up and down going all, like, you know, ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod.
But that’s par for the course. I’ve made similar trips to Hamburg, Vienna (twice), Budapest, Oberhausen and Antwerp to see Tanz der Vampire, and it’s a pretty freaking awesome show, whichever way you turn it. This time I was told to be prepared for some changes. Not changes in the Broadway Dance of the Vampires-sense of the word, but changes due to the smaller size of the production. The sets are completely new, as is most, if not all, of the choreography. It’s a completely fresh take.
Oh, and beware! Here there be spoilers and rambling.
As it turns out, most of these changes work out really well. The most noticeable changes in the characters are the way Rebecca and Koukol are portrayed. Rebecca (played by Leena Rousti) isn’t the ugly old hag she usually is, and this changes her relationship with Chagal completely, and for the better. While she usually leaves me completely indifferent, now she seems a much more sympathetic character. Koukol (Antti Railio) also is played quite different. He was not his usual hunchbacked self, but reminded me of Danny de Vito in that one Batman movie. He gets to sing in Carpe Noctem, too. The role of Professor Abronsius, as played by Esa Ahonen, was different too, but that much. He wasn’t the old, slightly incompetent academic-type, but he seems more confident. It suits him.
The first act stayed pretty close to previous incarnations of Tanz. Apart from the new interpretations of the characters, no drastic changes come to mind. The staging of some scenes is different—most noticable, Von Krolock (Jyri Lahtinen played him very well) doesn’t come in through the auditorium for Jumala on kuollut/Got ist Tott—but that’s fine with me. The only nit I have to pick is with Voimakkaampi meitä/Starker als wir Sind. In every version I’ve seen and heard, Krolock doubles Sarah’s last line, as if to convince her to give in to temptation and leave her dreary gray life behind. That very part is always the part the gets me, as it’s so increddibly powerful: there’s all these voices praying for strength to overcome the dark powers, and then this big, booming voice comes it. I missed that.
The second act has always been my favorite one, this time it was truly excellent. The most noticeable change is doubtlessly the crypt scene. It’s my least favorite section of the entire show, as it goes on for way too long, isn’t particularly funny or touching: it seems to be there just to help the plot along. This time, it felt a lot shorter, and the set design was great—I mean, a crypt rising up from the orchestra pit, how awesome is that? We were sitting in row three, and I almost got the impression that we were going down instead of the stage coming up. Along with some other little touches, like Krolock and Herbert almost waking up when Alfred drops the hammer and stake, it’s a much better section.
As I said, the choreography is (almost) completely new. The only case where it didn’t work for me was in the finale. Any show should go out with a bang, and having just a few dancers with the rest of the cast rocking out on the side of the stage just doesn’t deliver that. The final bows, with the entire cast on the edge of stage was nice though.
One of my favorite scenes was Kun kaikki pimenee/Totale Finsternis. It was staged simple but very powerful: Sarah (Raili Raitala) is center stage, and behind her, on the top of the stairs, we see Krolock watching her, enchanting her, luring her into his web. He stalks up and down, watching, waiting for the right moment to strike. She is entranced by him, daydreaming about the wonders he promises. Yet she never looks at him, until he is right next to her, ready to seal the pact with a deadly bite. That act almost breaks the trance, but then he calls her again, and as if by magic a door opens and together they disappear into the castle.
The biggest complaint is a minor one: for a musical about bloodsucking fiends of the night, there isn’t nearly enough blood flowing. When Chagal bites Magda, they get away with it because of the lighting, but when Krolock finally sinks his fangs in Sarah’s neck you’d figure she’d bleed. But she didn’t have a drop on her.
There’s just two more actors that do need a mention: Ville Salonen was excellent as Alfred, and his Sarah’lle/Für Sarah was very pretty. And Jouko Enkelnotko’s Herbert was, well, everything you’d expect a campy gay vampire to be. Quite good.
Walking out of friday’s show I had to conclude that Dance of the Vampires Finland is an excellent adaptation that can rival any other version that I’ve seen. It was certainly worth the trip, and I’d love to see it again.
Luckily, the next day we got to see the matinee show before heading back to Helsinki. That performance was equally awesome. Furthermore, we were invited by Laura of Eclipsis to join a very informative and enjoyable backstage tour led by costume designer Leena Rintala. And thanks to her, I also got to be, as Dave keeps calling it, a star on Finnish television.*
The trips to see Tanz der Vampire are great ways to meet up with friends and like-minded people I haven’t met before, they’re great excuses to go and see new places, and as an added bonus, you get to see a great musical.
Now, if I could only find out what the deal is with these vampires in St. Petersburg. And since it’s kinda in the neighborhood, it’s tempting to swing by Seinäjoki again.
* This is a slight exaggeration, but probably better for the story.