BWW Review: IDYLL at Lillestrøm Kultursenter - Idyllic Performances Makes the Show
Lillestrøm Kultursenter has gone all out and produced a new original musical based on the songs by the popular pop group Postgirobygget. The book is written by Henrik Amundsen and Erik Schøyen, who also serve as directors for this production. Getting original material for musical theatre is a rarity in Norway, but this fall we have already seen the birth of two musicals, both based on songs by pop icons. So this is a good sign of things to come.
The plot of the musical is as follows. Leif Arne is your typical everyday guy who dreams of life as a professional singer/songwriter. He has talent, but lacks the means (within himself) to make this a reality. Lise, his soon to be ex-girlfriend, is tired of watching him throw his life away on daydreaming, and in turn dumps him. As fortune would have it Leif Arne performs at party where he meets a sleazy used car salesman named Marius Nicolai, who after hearing him play offers to be his manager. Leif Arne also meets a girl named Kamilla, with whom he has a one night stand. It turns out she works in the same hair salon as his ex-girlfriend (Uh-Oh). Marius Nicolai introduces Leif Arne to a group of guys on welfare (played by the musicians) plus the hard-hitting motor mouthed Marianne. They form a rock band named Rikstrygdeverket (Nice!) and suddenly the dream making it is a step closer.
As with all Jukebox-musicals the story has been written around pre-existing songs. The authors have done a good job in incorporating a narrative that takes a lot of characters and situations from Postgirobygget's music. The band's music lends itself well to be performed in a theatrical setting, and while it is always good to have strong songs that stands on their own two feet, they can also become an obstacle when trying to conform a good flow in the story. The writers have written a script in the style of 90s situational comedy blending Friends with Karl & Co. Each character represents a certain type of persona. You have the perplexed everyday guy, the hot love interest, the sexy uninhibited girl, the boorish slightly offensive friend, the substitute for an adult who gives life advice, plus an the angry lesbian (as they state was not okay back in 1998). There are plenty of laughs and nice situations during the show, but I am hoping to connect and invest in the characters more. That they all some small moments that defined them in the story. Most of all with the character Leif Arne, who really should have had a bigger arch to give his character more depth. Since he is the lead he should get more to give him substance, and not be so passive.
Postgirobygget's songs have a very simple "to the point" lyrics, which is why I understand that the libretto should be in the same style, but it feels a little disorganized. There is also an unbalance between dialogue-scenes and the songs. During the first act especially the songs often did not have defined ending, so there is Little Room for applauding, which can get frustrating, because the cast really deserves applauding. Boy, what a talented group of performers and musicians.
Mattis Johannessen plays the main character Leif Arne, and he incorporates a lot in the part. He singing in impeccable with great low- and high-notes, especially in the opening number "Sløv uten dop". His diction is also very good. Acting wise he has a great comedic timing, while at the same time maintaining realness in his deliveries. As stated earlier I only wish he had been given a clearer defined character from the get go and so docile, even though 'm sure that was the intent of the writers. He switches a little too easily back and forth between his love interests though, I must say. Lise, played by the wonderful Guro Karifjord, also have a very conflicted character that struggles to find her perseverance. Her rendition of "Lise Berg" is one of the highlights in act one, and vocally she is very strong. Mari Haugen Smistad is excellent in role of Kamilla, and manages to steal the show every time she is on, without upstaging the other actors. Her version of "23 tommer" is outstanding. Her character is more developed which also makes her more interesting, and I was actually rooting for her and Leif Arne to become a couple. Line Kaupang delivers one of the strongest rock performances with "Tunge dager". She was a bit underused during the first act, so I was glad she got her moment to shine, and shine she did! Her no bullshit persona was a welcomed addition in the story. Øyvind Boye Løvold delivers on all accounts. It was nice to see him in character where he really played against type. His vocals is strong, and he shows great sleaziness as the wannabe manager. It was a little disconcerting hearing the voice of Alfa in "Sesam Stasjon" working the sexy hotline-telephone, but Hanne Dahle delivers some great comic moments, and her singing is also a pleasant surprise.
The band, under Musical Supervision of Robert Skrolvik, really catches the raw sound of Postgirobygget, and are precise and defined in their playing. Also fun to see them acting on stage. Especially Ole Christian Rydland gets a chance to perform as the slightly psychotic drummer Stian.
The scenery is simple yet very effective. It looks like a merging of Rent and Avenue Q, and the it was very welcomed when the big elements started moving, to form everything from apartments to a rock arena. John Johansen is made a great set out of Erik Schøyen's design.
The sound was craftly mastered by Petter Ringstad. It sounded clear and rich, most of the time. It is not the easiest job to get this kinds of results in this auditorium.
"Idyll" has a lot going for it. Great songs, a superb cast and musicians. It is these factors that saves it in the end. The writing needs a few more rounds to make it a more wholesome musical. As it is now it emerges as a combination of good scenes with clever use of the songs stories infused in the text, and some not so good ones where the narrative drops a few notches and you are left a little disoriented. But for the cast's performances alone it is a great night in the theatre.