Germany

Music Monday … Aber bitte mit Sahne

Well THIS might come as a surprise to those who either know me pretty well or whitnessed me watching “Ich war noch niemals in New York” a German musical featuring the songs of Udo Jürgens (like the Mamma Mia of German Schlager-king Udo Jürgens) during its Berlin-run, but during our roadtrip I grew to like at least the recording of that show. Overall it’s a fun and easy listen and exactly what you need on a roadtrip driving on what is your continental European wrong side of the road….

Anyway – this past week I was rather emotional (you could say hormonal) and I was like “Get me ALL the cheesy videos on Youtube – asap!” so I watched a lot of Ich war noch niemals in New York bootleg clips. Even though “Aber bitte mit Sahne” isn’t the most cheesy one from the show I chose this to be this week’s #MusicMonday because I really like the arrangement of it. After all the original one is a good ol’ German Schlager from 1976 and if you get that to sound kind of contemporary then you got something right, I’d say.

Plus: Sarah Schütz’s (the lead’s) voice!

What are you listenting to today?

Music Monday … So kann’s nicht weiter gehen

Once more a late #MusicMonday this week – but you know what? A late Music Monday is better than no Music Monday, right?

This week I want to give you a little hint on what to expect on this blog tomorrow….it’s not really a hint, I’ll just say it: A week ago I saw the originally German musical “Lotte” in the small German town of Wetzlar and before I finally get my sh*t together and write down my thoughts (sorry, German once again…) I want to give you a little impression of the music. Although I think it’s not nessescarily the best example to show you the musical “vibe” of the show, it’s as much as we get. So, we have to just roll with it and get to know a little bit of Werther and Lotte with this Demo. And for the non-German folks on here: Yes, you can sing in German. And no, it’s not always funny.

What have you been listening to today?

And over the last week?

What’s your summer show-tune?

10 Things I learned (about me) while seeing the Berlin production of Next to Normal

There’s a German version of this article avaliable which you can find by clicking here – German!

  1. If you don’t like certain parts of a translation and you change these parts make sure you really change them for the better. Not liking things is totally fine, especially with this translation as I pointed out on more than one occasion. Changing things is totally fine, too, as long as you are checking back with the original translator (at least in case these changes are very crucial and/or cover more than a certain percentage of the text). On the other hand – what isn’t fine is changing things for the sake of changing it. If you cannot come up with a better idea then stick to what the translator gave you. When in doubt: Ask the dramaturg for opinion.
  1. You can totally agree with a director in some things and totally disagree on others. Okay, that one I knew before – I’m gonna be a dramaturg eventually. But I think few productions over the past years have made this as clear to me as this one. When I went South to see the first German production of Next to Normal almost two years ago now I remember being a little bit frustrated with the way this production introduced Gabe as the cool, lovely and just overall nice son. To me he isn’t. He is evil. Really, really evil. I mean: When Diana leaves Dan and Nathalie he turns to them instead. If I had to work on a production myself, there would be…..anyway. Thorsten Fischer, the director of the Berlin production, made Gabe at least kind of evil for the most parts – which I was a big fan of. For so many other things though I couldn’t agree less. Which brings me to…
  1. You have to take care of your actors. Do you think it’s a weird coincidence that Guntbert Warns who plays Dan isn’t talked about in pretty much ALL the reviews (at least the ones I read)? Berlin reviewers and German musical blogs seem to hesitate to say something negative. However I do, too. But: It’s bad. Listening to the Broadway recording especially shows how beautiful and meaningful Dan’s part is music-wise. Mr. Warns really isn’t cutting it. There’s a lot of speaking and things that loosely resemble parlando or recitative forms and then bad singing. Which undermines this production in so many ways. I was constantly reminded how weird and not “natural” musical theatre is as a genre itself: Why does someone sing when he is obviously SO MUCH BETTER at speaking? Also: My thoughts are with those who have to harmonize with him every night (especially Gabe and Henry, my thoughts are with you, boys!) At least on opening night he also looked so uncomfortable and all I kept thinking was: Why doesn’t Diana walk out on him WAY earlier? However I don’t want to “bully” Mr. Warns. It isn’t his fault he was cast. The director and the creative team cast him. And I really think as members of a creative team you not only have to take care of the production, but also of the actors involved. And sometimes you have to protect them.
  1. If you are producing/directing a musical don’t treat it as a “play with music”. Just don’t. Especially a piece like Next to Normal. Have you listened to the score? You then might have noticed that the music is so tightly knit together with the words and the plot and Diana’s mental state it’s not funny anymore.
  1. On a similar note as 4 is: Just because I don’t like a song it’s not okay to rush through it (“Song of Forgetting” / “Lied vom Vergessen”, I’m talking about you!)
  1. Let’s say you make a creative decision. Let’s say you don’t like the optimistic ending “Light” / “Licht” suggests. How wonderful would it be to just stick to this decision? Making your actors do a weird and inappropriate pose in the end (what is this couple-y she leans backwards into his front-pose between Dan and Nathalie anyway?), then black the scene out, have a solid 5 to 10 second black, everyone is clapping and then having the lights go on again and “Light” starts as some kind of epilogue. How weird is that? We’ve just witnessed a very tense and thrilling ‘ending’ and then – BOOM – just kidding or what? I’m pretty sure you could have just asked those who represent the writers/”own” the rights and then you might had been able to stick to your initial idea.
  1. If you cast people think about how voices sound with each other. With some casting decisions in this production you just are like WTF (see No. 3) and with others you are like WHY?
  1. Diana is not a very stable person. Her singing “I’m no sociopath” hints – at least to me – to her actually being one. She has troubles reading and reacting to people’s behavior (the very first dialogue between Nathalie and her, basically the whole “Just another day”). And she makes a lot of sex jokes (“My Psychopharmacologist and I”….) in my opinion these ‘jokes’ are a lot more powerful and disturbing when you don’t see Dr. Fine act as if he could mean it in a sexy way. Because then it’s not just everyone cheering for the sex-joke to FINALLY cross the finish line after you’ve seen it coming for about a minute.
  1. I REALLY want to work on musicals when I’m a really grown up dramaturg. It totally has the power to have me worked up for days. It really has. (Anyone wanna hire me? – joking….)
  1. Nothing new but this hit me with all its power: I can be so excited and nervous for other people. I really can. I was a nervous wreck.

 

Nur ein Blick – Thoughts on Sunset Boulevard

The open air theatre of Tecklenburg is one of the more special things to happen in a musical theatre nerd’s summer. Tecklenburg is a small town in western Germany and it’s literally so small it does not even have a trainstation.

Ever since I have been into musical theatre Tecklenburg’s summer festival was something like a place to be in summer, to see their productions. After my last visit two years ago when I went wth my family to see Michael Kunze and Sylvester Levay’s Marie Antoinette, this year my second ever visit happened there. This time alone and kind of as a stop in my journey to Frankfurt, where I was visiting a friend. (by now the production is closed….this seems to be a thing on this blog these days – oh, boy!)

This season they happend to show to musicals of Andrey Lloyd Webber – which I am not a huge fan of, but their second production, Sunset Boulevard, appealed to me because you can hear people say Sunset is one of his really good shows.

Because I wanted to go for the uninformed audience-member all the way, I’ve never really listened to the score before (of course I knew all these big time popular songs), when I sat down and the music director came on and started conducting I knew nothing about the structure of the show. (I have to admit, I quite like this perspective…it basically makes you an investigator.) – That’s probably why I had quite a few “That’s quite cool!”-moments during the show and a lot of structural and analytical thinking going on.

The director Andreas Gergen (who is – in my opinion – probably one of the most interesting directors in the German musical community….) added a group of dancers to the ‘normal’ scenery: a woman dressed as a variation of Salome appearing with the head of Jochanaan. From time to time she is joined by a number of male dancers. Beforehand I’ve read about this fact online and most people thought this addition was a little bit too much – since we all get this Salome connotation anyways. I have quite a different view on this, I liked the idea of another ‘layer’ added to the action since it really created a layering effect – there was a scene going on and on another part of the stage Salome would come and ‘join’ them, acting with her acting-partner, the bloody head of Jochanaan. Although it mostly did some foreshadowing or stressing of situations, it at least did this and basically this Salome-branch of what happened was the presentation of the ending all the time. When the show starts off with Joe telling us about the muder, the ending is pretty clear already and when Salome keeps dancing with dead Jochanaan in her arms it stays present throughout the show.

While I could identify the dancing Salome as added into it, being a non-expert-viewer made it hard for me to judge the directing in general – but maybe me not being able to judge it (those who know me: Can you imagine it? Me not being able to judge something?! … Me neither!) is a sign that it was in its way coherent with the material. And sadly that’s all I can say about the directing itself.

For the leads I can say: Boy, that Joe Gillies was a nice one! Julian Looman was very Joe-Gillies-handsome, has a very nice, fitting voice and – last but not least – enough charisma and energy to take the audience with him on the journey thought his story. I wasn’t all too fond of our Norma Maya Hakvoort which was because I knew her voice from an older recording and didn’t like it back then and I didn’t like it in real life as well as I learned and she reminded me of an actress I so absolutely dislike…BUT (and that’s a huge but!) from time to time I felt sorry for her Norma and this (at least to me) seems to be crutial for getting her character: only when we feel sorry for her we see what drives her into her action and we get an idea of the alternative world she has created for herself.

Overall my trip to Tecklenburg this year was a pleasant thing in my summer and I did not regret it. I got to know Sunset Boulevard as a musical itself and this production made me interested enough to keep on listening to the score and finding out things and thinking about the plot and the way it might or might not work…

Have you seen it? What did you think?

And for those who missed it – they published a trailer….

My Week #18, Dec. 7th – 14th

Well, that was the week of my Mom’s birthday – which was yesterday and I had to spend pretty much all day at university. 😦 But nevertheless we had a great time together, we always have since we live together (even though we don’t really see each other very often these days). I love you, Mama.

what I saw
mostly the criminal dinner entertainment thingies again, and pretty much most of Smash’s Season 2 – except for the last two episodes. And Kiel. I saw Kiel, again.

what I read    
some dance studies texts. Magazines.

what I listened to
Scott Alan’s “Live” – that re-listen was so needed.

what I bought 
mostly food.

what I did  
I worked, a lot actually, went to Kiel to meet some amazing people over there and went back, my cold became more intense once more and then I had a two day intensive class at uni.

where I travelled
to Kiel. And back the next day. 🙂

Next to Normal in Germany

Two weeks after returning from the US I left home again for another theatrical adventure. We drove about 450 km down South to what I consider to be Bavaria (I learned some people call it Franken), to Fürth to be exact. Fürth is a small town extremely close to Nuremberg and Erlangen and their local theatre dove “head first into fate” by producing the German premiere of Next to Normal.

Speaking of Next to Normal: I’ve always admired the music, it goes so well with the story which is so much different from most of the things we get to see on musical theatre stages. I got the recording right when it came out and I’ve always wanted to see the play itself. So Fürth was kind of my chance. And then they also assembled a cast I was beyond excited about. Both of the women I’ve seen serveral times on stage and I loved the thought of Pia Douwes playing Diana from the start, while I was kind of sceptical about Sabrina Weckerlin as Natalie – since she’s already in her mid-twenties and I’ve never been too amazed by her acting (her voice is great, no question, but everytime I saw her perform I ended up being like: I KNOW she can act but somehow she never has to because either the directors aren’t that clear about what they wanted her to do or it was some kind of laziness…okay, that was mean.). I also saw Dirk Johnston who played Gabe perform in the show every class of UdK (Universität der Künste/University of Arts)-graduates in Musical/Show puts together and he’d already recorded two songs from Next to Normal translated into German. I also knew Thomas Borchert (Dan) as a performer so the only ones left unknown were Dominik Hees (Henry) and Ramin Dustdar (Dr. Madden).

Staging-wise I was almost 100% sure that it would be a not that original production (and I was right, I have a strange feeling it copied most of the staging and staging-ideas from the Broadway production, it even has the same set, only a lot smaller and fitted exactly onto that stage) in some points it worked well, in some it didn’t – at least in my point. There were so many hits showing a very specific way of reading the material, but in my opinion they were too few to actually be a way of reading the material. If you know what I mean.

For example there were some moments in which Gabe gives things to people (his mother and sister in particular) that might actually destroy them or the things around them (Natalie only ‘finds’ her mother’s pills after Gabe put them in front of her…) but I have a strange feeling this thought wasn’t taken as far as it could have been.

Anyway, I wasn’t there to see a brilliant production, I was there because I really wanted to see this cast and I was too curious about the translation by Titus Hoffmann (who was also the director). I am very picky about translations and I have to say as sad (and funny at the same time) as some things (aka mishaps…) in this translation are it has its great lines. One of my favourite lines is the translation of “Can you tell me, what it is you’re afraid of” (Dan in “I am the one”) into “Kannst du sagen, was es ist, dass dir Angst macht” (“Can you tell me, what it is you are fearing”), I think what Diana is experiencing is in deed fear. And “Angst” is actually a word that sounds very much like what it means. Note: If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you might already know that I’m weird…

As far as the mishaps are concerned I won’t get started. The funniest moment is in fact during “I am the one” right when Dan reaches the end of his arguments and he bursts into singing-shouting “Oh YEAH YEAH” and I’m not even sure about how ridiculous that is in English but I’m pretty sure it’s the most ridiculous things of the ridiculous in German. I actually had to laugh in the auditorium. And I couln’d stop. It was very sad, because it’s one of my favourite songs. For a really sad one….no, I won’t even get into writing about the translation of “Superboy and the invisible girl”. No. NO!

But, let’s talk about the performers. Sadly the men didn’t really catch me, no. I don’t know if he was ill or this throat was sore, but Mr. Johnston had to do some scary things with his voice in both shows I saw making him sound like he has no body at all. He really didn’t sound like I remembered his voice – but he did some acrobatics with/on/around a pole connecting the two floors of the set and he did that well, I have to give him that. You didn’t see that much of Ramin Dustdar, his Dr. Fine with a huge viennese accent was quite funny. I liked Dominik Hees’ portray of Henry and I like Henry as a character (can I have a Henry, please?). Thinking about Thomas Borchert as Dan (“Oh YEAH YEAH!”) I come to the conclusion that I really, really liked his acting. Especially in the last third of the show when everything is really concentrated on the acting (no light-effects, almost no colours….) I realized how much of a strong actor he is.

Now….the ladies. Pia Douwes might have shown me the strongest performance of a female actor in musical theatre I saw this year (the male one HAS to be Norbert Leo Butz. Like…there’s not even room for discussion). Her Diana is so fragile and over the top and strong at the same time, she’s clueless and over-reacting and Mrs. Douwes voice gives a very specific tone to all of these characteristics. Right in the beginning she just takes you along with her on Diana’s journey through the plot. From what I saw in videos her Diana thinks kind of more clearly than Alice Ripley’s and some might say: A clear Diana, really? And then I say: How much scarier is that when you see someone seeming to be so clear in her head and then doing these strange things? Because, yes, she does strange things and they develop from a – what seems to be – clear state of mind. Regarding her singing: I’m still a little speechless after two weeks… (I’m very looking forward to the recording, they announced a live recording of that production shortly after my visit.) I still can’t get over how intense that performance was. By the way the same applies to the performance of her ‘daughter’ portrayed by Sabrina Weckerlin. She definitely can play funny (we learned that there) and sad and crazy but most of all: She can act! Yay! I was proven right! And I especially liked the chemistry between those to ladies – and their voices. They both have very strong voices, of course, and very special, unmistakable ones – but very different from each other. That being said they didn’t mix well, the didn’t blend in together that much – a thing that many people might dislike but for Diana and Natalie I loved that. Those two characters are so alike and so different from each other at the same time it is actually great that the actresses can sing together and not together at the same time. (if that makes any sense at all)

Now two weeks after my visit I love that Next to Normal was brought to Germany with that kind of a kick-off-production and it even was reviewed on the very serious German theatre critic website Nachtkritik, which mostly reviews straight plays only. For any musical theatre expert media I am very excited for the review in the German musical theatre magazine musicals. But while I’m waiting for that I’ll read the libretto and the score for my dramaturgical concept of a piece of my choice for my admission exam in dramaturgy in musical theatre.

Have you ever seen any production of Next to Normal, maybe even the one in Fürth? I would be very happy if you shared your thoughts!

The “Why Hebrew?”-Confession

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Since my first semester at university there is one question asked the most:
Why are you studying Hebrew?

I like to answer: Because it was possible.
Of course that is not even close to a ‚nice’ answer. I mean, I wouldn’t like getting that answer at all if I were the one asking. But it gives a nice hint to what my motivation was.
In the very beginning I wasn’t like: Wow, I love the middle east!
Or even: I like the forms of theatre they have in Israel – so let’s learn Hebrew to understand them!
I was more like: Well, they have nice a nice alphabet. Let’s try that!

To be honest I bought one of these study-by-yourself books for Hebrew and I taught myself some (VERY little) when I was about 16, but I basically forgot everything before I started learning Hebrew at university.

My university offers a very small minor-programme for Hebrew language only (which otherwise is a part oft he Judaism-major-programme) and a friend of mine (whom I got to know in a Hebrew intensive after my third semester) and myself we are – as far as I know – the only ones who started that programme and are still doing it.

So I enrolled in that programme because it seemed appealing.
In the first two semester I had Hebrew class three times a week. In the early mornings, in the 8 to 10 am slot – after I spend a year working in theatres and slowly teaching my brain not to work before 10 am. Yay. But somehow I did well. First semester modern Hebrew (Ivrit) and I so loved. I fell in love with that language like right from the start! (after I kind of checked how to read that – without the vowels and stuff….)

Second semester biblical Hebrew. That was even better in some parts because – hey, the stories are much better, weirder, funnier. J

From the third semester on I had a different teacher and only one class a week. (which was – actually good, because I kind of didn’t like that teacher…), modern Hebrew again.

After my third semester I took a Hebrew intensive class for three weeks, five days a week for hours a day taught by two Israelis, one constantly living in Berlin, the other one living in Haifa and coming over fot teaching….In that intensive I kind of first started speaking Hebrew (because I tend to not speak a foreign language until I know I can speak like five proper sentences unless someone makes my speaking). That was last spring. Two and a half months later I travelled to Israel for the first time with a German-Israeli youth exchange (yes, for them I’m still „youth“….well….) and I had plans to spend August completely in Israel.

I really wanted to enroll in the August intensive programme Hebrew at University of Haifa. But before I did so I applied for a scholarship programme provided by my hometown university and the DAAD. I got the scholarship – the money they gave me covered basically the tuition and housing fee at Haifa – and so I was able to spend a month in Israel, three and a half weeks at Haifa University in a lovely class in Rama ה with the best class mates. We were the only class in that programm consisting of girls only with the only male teacher in the programme. I guess especially during the last week or so our Doron had a hard time with us, but we had fun. And I learned a lot.

But now I’m like: Have I ever been able to speak Hebrew? Did I ever know that language?(because I don’t have to take Hebrew anymore at my university, I could my Haifa class get count)

To conclude and write something suiting the headline: I still don’t know why I had the feeling of needing to study Hebrew, but here I am and I love it. (not the My-Hebrew-is-bad-stuff, but the I-know-Hebrew-stuff….) 😉