WHAT IS A THEATRE CONCERT?
Like arriving in a city where you've never been before
To our Norwegian photographer, it felt like arriving in a city where he'd never been before. "It was like going to Rome for the first time," he said to me. And, boy, did I smile! He'd been working with us throughout the rehearsals of our latest production, Beethoven, but he'd never experienced a Theatre Concert, and this was his reaction after the opening.
In the Netherlands and in Norway, we recently met virgin audiences: people who didn't know what to expect because they had never seen a Theatre Concert before. The first 15 minutes were utterly lovely: this uncertain silence in an auditorium of people trying hard to fathom what they are experiencing. And then, at the 20-minute mark, they got it.
The relief can be heard in their reaction: Oh it's strange, but it's funny, and it tastes different, but it tastes ... good. And in allowing themselves to be seduced by the newness of the experience, they hear other people's laughter, a gasp, and spontaneous applause. In the end, despite their initial uncertainty, they are giving us a standing ovation, sharing their enthusiasm and approval.
So, what is it again? The recipe is simple: You take some music (it can even be very old music, as long as you can still hear it, it will work), chop it up, re-configure it, spice it, stretch it, sear it, stitch it. Add some theatre methods, some mask-work, some alternative theatre from the past 30 years, some MTV, some aerial work (or a cascade of water), some haute couture, new words if you want, and there you go ... a Theatre Concert.
The theatre concert story began with a long conversation about musical theatre on a lake beach in the Pentecost of 1993. The situation was this: We like to work with music in theatre, but the musical form seems boring and artificial. On the other hand, so does the traditional rock concert with its set rituals. Regarding the musical: the "she-finds-the-letter-on-the-mantle-piece" song that nobody likes because it's no good has to be there in order to help the audience understand the story. But we didn't want to make music that simply underscored a plot point.
Just as much, the hackneyed litany of "Hello Copenhagen! How ya feelin' tonight?" and "Here's a song from our new album" and "You might know this one" followed by cries of "Encore, encore!" are like the tired rites of a church ceremony, aping the same old patterns since rock concerts began. But we didn't want to do patterns. And why would we?
The dynamics of a traditional rock concert are severely lacking. Within the first 20 minutes of a show, the crowd has probably seen it all: how loud the band can play, what their lights can do, and how they all look in their we-don't-care rock concert uniforms. Oh, maybe concert-goers will be treated to an "unplugged" or semi-acoustic set where "Now we're gonna take it down just a bit" ... but still, predictability reigns supreme.
From this conversation sprang the idea of making an interpretation of the work of a rock band (in our case, the Danish group Gasolin'), just as theatres do Shakespeare and classical orchestras do Beethoven. To that end, we would take all the interesting genes from theatre history and cross-breed them with the rock concert. And what we got from this process was the theatre concert, a healthy F1 hybrid born from Father Theatre and from Mother Music.
But please don't count musicals, opera, vaudeville, rock-opera, operetta, or Andrew Lloyd Webber among its predecessors. While it's true that music and theatre have often before bred new forms, this truly feels like untrod territory, a fruitful new connection between the two. That's because we interpret the works of others not only in music, but also visually, in the action, in the movement, in the costumes, and in the stories we tell.
And think about this: How odd is it, when you go to see an opera, that the most expensive part of the production is hidden away in the pit? That's right, the orchestra is placed just out of sight of the audience, which is strange, since one of the big joys of live music is that you get the chance to witness these experts handle their instruments. It's fundamentally pleasurable to watch musicians play (though, on the other hand, it should be admitted it's not so fundamentally pleasurable to see musicians on centre stage who don't know where to look or who they are).
You have to be somebody, and that's why in a Theatre Concert the 5 or 6-piece band is not just a part of the scenery, they are part of the play. They're acting while playing and interacting with the 5 or 6 singers ... sometimes they're even flying while playing! And by playing, we mean playing, not miming to backing tracks.
To date, we've created seven critically and commercially successful Theatre Concerts inspired by the Danish band Gasolin', The Beach Boys, The Beatles (Come Together & Hey Jude), Bob Dylan, and most recently, Mozart and Beethoven (both with newly written English lyrics). Each show consists of two acts (or sets) of about 50 minutes each, with an intermission in between. A night at the theatre concert hall lasts about 2 hours.
The artists behind the Theatre Concerts are director Nikolaj Cederholm and the composer twins Jens and Peter Hellemann. Cederholm invented the Theatre Concert in 1994 and has been working with the Hellemanns for the past ten years. This trio is closely collaborating with costume designer Anja Vang Kragh, aerial director Brendan Shelper, lyricist Neill Cardinal Furio, set designer Kim Witzel, and choreographer Anja Gaardbo, as well as a lot of other artists and craftsmen. And, of course, some very skilled singers and musicians.
momoland is not only the name of the creative company, it is also a company founded in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2011 by director Nikolaj Cederholm, the music composers and arrangers Jens & Peter Hellemann, and manager Peter Wallengren.
Cederholm and the Bros. Hellemann began their collaboration with the theatre piece Simon at Gasværket in 2004. In 2008, they produced their first Theatre Concert together: Beach Boys. It was a great success, and after Sony/ATV saw how well they had rearranged the music and the conceived the staging, they granted Cederholm and the Hellemanns permission to use to the Beatles music for Theatre Concert Come Together. In yearly succession, Theatre Concert Bob Dylan, Theatre Concert Mozart, Theatre Concert Hey Jude, and Theatre Concert Beethoven have followed.
momoland produces and promotes their own Theatre Concerts, as well as co-produces Theatre Concerts with publicly funded theatres and commercial producers.
Video by Thomas Meldgaard