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Betty Nansen Teatret, Cederholm & Helleman Brothers present
A Theatre Concert
Betty Nansen Teatret, Denmark
Directed by Nikolaj Cederholm
Music Directors and Producers: Jens and Peter Hellemann
Songs written by Neill Cardinal Furio
Costume design by Anja Vang Kragh
Lighting design by Jonas Bøgh
Choreographed by Anja Gaardbo
Singers: Lotte Andersen, Mark Linn, Martin Greis, Bjørn Fjæstad, Claus Hempler Louise Hart
Music direction by Peter Hellemann
Drums and Percussion: Björn Jönsson
Guitar: Søren Bigum
Bass: Bastian Sjelberg
Violin: Kristian Jørgensen
I’m all for democracy, so invite me to a show in which there is no ‘star’, because everyone in it plays a starring role and I’ll be there. This inventively original show was definitely, the place to be, the night I was there and assuredly, has been all the nights of its all too brief London run. Its Director Nikolaj Cederholm treks new turf with this production, redefining the genius of Mozart with incredibly astute lyrics, courtesy of Neill Cardinal Furio and some oddly noir 18th century visual leaps of his own, with the help of Anja Vang Kragh’s DIY retro costumes, spot on lighting from Jonas Bogh and charmingly enacted slightly off-beat Choreography by Anja Gaardb., But Cederholm’s no stranger to probing unchartered territory, having already re-addressed iconic, in our life soundscapes by The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and The Beatles, in the case of the latter, twice, as well as tackling Beethoven onstage, undoubtedly, in his own uniquely inimitable ways. Headily blending influences related, but not necessarily akin to ‘cabaret, bluegrass, soft rock, R n B and A capella’ a new genre is born, exploring definitive music as assuredly as exploratory actors would words by Shakespeare, Ibson and Shaw. As it’s widely known that many of the world’s greatest musicians paid highly for the persistence of their vision, Mozart among them, it’s great seeing his music get a readdressing here.
Flattery may, traditionally, have been the highest form of compliment, but this being refreshingly untraditional terrain, audiences are entrusted with a challenging lack of format, capable of expanding their appreciation of the possibilities inherent to Mozart’s classics by virtue of diminishing their expectations of them. It’s an exhilarating ride, from start to finish, with amazing results from onlookers, many of whom spontaneously leapt to their feet at the show’s conclusion and/or shouted their approval. What occurred between curtain up and the show’s conclusion was clearly, engaging.
Lanterns pierced the darkness onstage, a guitarist shuffled his electric down front as a barely audible undercurrent of sounds, dripping water among them, formed a backdrop. Performers posing as real people, a common phenomenon perhaps, but one executed here with tongue in cheek adeptness. As the drip becomes a visibly steady drop, eventually morphing into a full on, tub after tub deluge, two of the unseen ‘stars’ of the show, in the form of the twin tanks of the company’s own water system assume their places in the scheme-less scheme of things, with performers being steadily doused as they bathe and shower in makeshift 18th century costumes before us. Shirts become ruffs and skirts become hats, as trousers are rolled up, revealing white hose beneath. Through Cederholm’s kaleidoscopic lens, water, seemingly in all its manifestations, symbolises the purity of Mozart’s music.
There is no story line in the show per se, as it takes its’ lead from its’ flowing re-workings of several of Mozart’s beloved classics, with the addition of outstandingly evocative arrangements by Musical Director Peter Hellmann, and wonderfully to the point lyrics by Neill Cardinal Furio, and the range of subject matter is as far reaching as the performers themselves. In act one, true to Cederholm’s visionary Theatre Concert formless form, with the help of their long handled brush bearing fellows, the singers are transformed before our eyes into 18th Century fops and floozies, oft with laughably, recognisable self-appointed senses of propriety. Gustily telling it like it is, sans any sense of shame or explanations, Bjorn Fjaestad as Beast, sings ‘Appetite’ (Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Serenade No. 13, in G, 1, Allegro – K 525) in which he revels in doing all the wrong things, including, sporting a socially unacceptable, portly frame. This show is refreshingly, catwalk and gym bunny free – no surface performers these! Casting is thankfully, as it should be, based on talent and distinctiveness alone.
As the action progresses with Musical Director Peter Hellemann on piano and his fellow musicians rightfully, ever on stage: Seren Bigum (on alternatingly wailing and twanging guitar), Bastian Sjelberg (upright and rock bass), and hilariously obsessive/compulsive Krisitian Jergensen on violin, (sometimes played like a fiddle), six outstanding, distinctly different singers emerge. The Father (Claus Hempler), The Mother (Lotte Andersen), The Daughter (Louise Hart), The Soldier (Mark Linn), The Lover (Martin Grais) and The Beast (Bjorn Fjaestad), each beguile in their own way, via voices thrilling open ears.
Hempler, with a frame and demeanour rivalling the Thin White Duke has a singularly magnetic stage presence matched only by the alluring quality of his vocal delivery. His cat like departures from the stage must surely, put long term rock fans in mind of a younger Bowie or Iggy Pop. The amazing range and emotion inherent to Lotte Andersen’s voice is a something of a force to be reckoned with in and of itself, as she alternatingly rocks and woos. Without hesitation, I concurred that the diverse talents of these two performers alone are, surely, more than you’re ever likely to encounter in starring musical theatre roles, anywhere! Interposed with the powerhouse ‘Beast’ of Bjorn Fjaestad, with physical comedic timing reminiscent of that of late ‘Blues Brother’ Belushi, and vocals of unparralled clarity and strength mixing Meatloaf with show stopping moments of Les Miserables and this show already threatens to ‘blow the roof off tha sucka’ as Parliament’s George Clinton was/is wont to proclaim! Deceptively sweet Lousie Hart slotting seamlessly into this savvy blend as Daughter aka younger female singer, only serves to clinch the deal as she alternates between pop belting a la Ga Ga and harmonising on Beatles reminiscent (‘Two of Us’?) lyrics on pairings with Lover, Martin Greis or Soldier Mark Linn. Proverbial pins dropped during their coaxing duets, would have surely been heard!
The late, great Barry White, with measures of Marvin Gaye thrown in, gets a unexpectedly laugh prompting looking, thanks to ‘Good Clean Fun’ (Don Giovanni, La Ci Darem La Mano – K527) as enacted and sung by Martin Greis as Lover and Lotte Anderson as Mother mixing in a steaming, onstage bath! Conversely, in act two, getting down and dirty is taken literally in ‘’Hemlock and Key’ (Die Zauberflote Der Holle Rache Kocht In Meinem Herzen – K 620) about the joys of poisoning unwanted husbands, as Andersen gleefully casts dirt on her paramour attempting to crawl out of shovel range, accompanied by Daughter, Louise Hart. Sadder but wiser Soldier, Mark Linn oozes sensuality vocally in ‘Call to Arms’ while doing daring, skill and strength driven rope tricks above and, in, a bath, splashing out his angst, threatening to further whet inflamed day dreams of romantically inclined fans throughout the house.
In terms of hybrids, musical styles exceed proclaimed influences, also drawing on carnival, calypso, punk, and what have you, with little bits of what you fancy tickling hitherto unreachable realms. There is often a cryptic sense of justice to Furio’s lyrics too, a case in point being ‘The Atheist’ notably sung by the aforementioned Claus Hempler to the tune of Mozart’s Requiem in D , 3, Confutatis –K626, citing Moses’ fabled Ten Commandments in which it’s justly pointed out that none of them mentions rape, child abuse or war. It’s a certainty that there’s wit, wisdom and food for thoughts aplenty within the knowing cyclical context drawn from Mozart’s music underlying the flow of this full bodied show.
Would Mozart have approved of this inventive, ever surprising, ultimately rewarding restructuring of some of his greatest creative works? Being of an experimental nature himself, I’m sure his answer, like those of the appreciative converts among us in the audience would have been a resounding, ‘yes’!