BWW Review: SÅ SOM I HIMMELEN at Oslo Nye Teater - A Celebration of Life, Love and music!
"Så som i himmelen" (As it is in Heaven) is a musical based on the Academy Award nominated 2004 Swedish movie, directed by Kay Pollak, which was an enormous success in Scandinavia and overseas.
Since watching the movie many years ago I have always believed this material was well suited for musical theatre, and In 2018 it finally happened at Oscarsteatern in Stockholm. This musical is an emotional joyride of live theatre which touches the soul and it also rings true in Oslo Nye Teater's version.
It tells the story of prodigy conductor Daniel Daréus who's main aspiration is to create music in people's hearts. His own heart on the other hand is in bad shape and after suffering a major heart attack he is forced to let go of his career and make best with the time he has left. Daniel decides to go back to his childhood home of Norland in the north of Sweden, where he used to be the victim of terrible bullying. Wanting to live in solitude, it is not long before he is asked to listen to the choir. This moves him in such a way that it reignites his love music. He teaches the choir his joy of music, and they in turn teaches him the joy of living.
The libretto is written by the original screenplay writers Kay and Carin Pollak. The latter is also responsible for the co-writing the lyrics along with composer Fredrik Kempe. The narrative and characters sticks close to the source material and I am very pleased that the soul and feel of the movie is intact. The characters are fully developed and are highly relatable. Proof of the dialogue's strength could be heard when certain scenes got just as much applaud as the songs.
Apart from "Gabriella's Song", which was composed by Stefan Nilsson and Py Backman (for the movie), the score is written by Fredrik Kempe. He combines lots of different styles of music with everything from Swedish folk and popular music to classical. The different styles fits each character in the narrative. Kempe writes in a very melodic and earnest manner that strikes a core. What also works well is taking traditional choir songs, such as "Silent Night" and adding recitatives on top. The montages where we get to see the little church choir transitioning into finding their common voice was also very efficiently done. The score is not through composed but in places It almost is. The Swedish cast recording only included about 40 minutes of material, which is a real shame because the entire score is so rich with melodic moments that I would have liked to listen to more thoroughly.
The role of Daniel Daréus is a role that seems almost is destined for Hans Marius Hoff Mittet. Vocally he has exceeded himself and gets to show his range in a very impressive manner. He also encompasses the emotional naivety of character and, like many other performers in this cast, flourishes as he discovers his true self, and connects with the inner child he has left behind when he left the village. To follow his progression is both riveting and enthralling.
The character of Lena is a symbol of goodness in people. She sees the beauty in those around her and playing a role such as this is not easy to get right. Heidi Ruud Ellingsen manages to make the role her own and brings much of her own qualities into the character. It is not hard to see why Daniel falls in love with her (even without realizing what love is at first). Her voice in beautiful and heartfelt, and vocally she and Mittet is a perfect match.
Jannike Kruse's portrayal of the Gabriella, a woman who starts off as the victim of continued domestic abuse, manages to keep herself, like her tortured character, in shadows for much of the first half of the musical. This is something that makes her transition into finding her true voice even more powerful. Her rendition of "Gabriella's song" at the end of the first act is heart wrenching and true. During the progression of the song she emanates out of the shadow and into the light which is such a joyous moment to witness.
Johannes Joner, as the village priest Stig does an amazing job in showing a man who hides behind priest collar and when his beliefs are challenged by Daniel's arrival it is the start of his mental and spiritual breakdown, which calumniates in a man who would rather commit murder than wanting change his views. Finally Joner gets to engorge himself in a solid musical theatre role again. It is a very demanding part vocally for his voice, but his dissemination of the text is splendidly. His voice is earnest and warm.
His wife Inger, played by Trine Wernberg Swendsen also does a superb job of showing a person coming out of the shades and finally challenge his husbands hypocrisy. During her number "All the words of sin" she outdoes herself both vocally and acting wise.
In addition there are so many individual characters that makes the ensemble in this musical, and there just as many worth mentioning. Jan Martin Johnson's Arne is wonderful. He manages to funny, irritating and say the most plitically incorrect things, but he does it in such a way that you cannot help but like him all the same. He has a development throughout the show that is great to witness. Kari-Ann Grønsund is delightfully charming Olga who knits while she sings (with a hearing aid). I laughed hard by Helle Haugens stuck up former choir master Siv, but pitied her too. Porfirio's Holmfrid gave one of the evenings most profound moments, when finally confronting a lifetime of harassment because of his size. A truly moving monent. Modou Bah (Regional BroadwayWorld nominee) does a gleefully true characterization of mentally disabled Tore, who wants to join the choir. The rest of the cast is also delivers in a huge way, and they all have their moments to shine.
Directors Kim Bjarke and Synne Teksum have taken what worked so well in the source material and transformed it to the stage in a remarkable and moving manner. They have worked hard in making each member of the ensemble shine through as individual characters and have treated each and every type of individual with the respect it deserves, and this results in truthfulness which is highly relatable.
The set design is very simplistic, but effectful. Gjermund Andresen has fitted most of the stage with wooden structures that is very befitting to the locals of a barren Scandinavian village. As the story evolves more light sheens through the structure, which calumniates as the characters frees themselves from the old way. The light design by Clement Irbil likewise deserves praise. It is highly effectful in showing the transition from gloom to glory.
The 11-piece orchestra led by Simon Revholt sounds amazingly full and rich. It's so nice to have orchestrations that includes strings as well as accordion. Karl-Johan Ankarhold, with some re-orchestrating by Simon Revolt do to the score justice that switches rather fast between musical styles
In conclusion "Så som i himmelen" celebrates life, love and music, and how the music can be essential to rehabilitate what was broken into something stronger. It is also about the value fellowship between people of different social classes and backgrounds. It can make you laugh. It can make you cry. But first and foremost it will make you feel. The producers and creative team of this production has done a masterful job of and should be very proud.
SÅ SOM I HIMMELEN
by Kay Pollak, Carin Pollak and Fredrik Kempe
Translated by Teodor Janson
Produced by Oslo Nye Teater and Thalia Teater
Daniel: Hans Marius Hoff Mittet
Lena: Heidi Ruud Ellingsen / Mari Dahl Sæther
Stig: Johannes Joner
Gabriella: Jannike Kruse
Inger: Trine Wenberg Svensen
Tore: Modou Bah
Arne: Jan Martin Johnsen
Olga: Kari-Ann Grønsund
Siv: Helle Haugen
Conny: Niklas Gundersen
Holmfrid: Porfirio Gutierrez
Erik: Mads Henning Skar-Jørgensen
Amanda: Mari Dahl Sæther / Henriette Faye-Schjøll
Florence: Suzanne Paalgard
Ensemble: Dagfinn Tutturen,
Kim Helge Strømmen, Sisi Sumbundu,
Little Daniel: Sondre Bringager / Sindre Seip / Vegard Bertolucci
Little Conny/ Gordon Tom Leo Bergan Dahlgren/ Hans Christian Bjønnes Mortvedt /
Even Stuwitz Kvammen
Jennifer: Mia Alegria Ulimoen / Ninni Spone / Marielle Østlie Chacon
Extra: Karina Cecilie Bergmann.
All photos in this review by Lars Opstad