Viki, or an Old School Musical

2 May 2017, 11:00
Viki, or an Old School Musical

The retro comedy musical Viki kráčí za štěstím (which might be translated as Viki Seeks Her Fortune), premiered in the Brno Municipal Theatre, in many ways represents a journey back in time. He audience returns to the work of Milan Uhde and Miloš Štědroň, which has now been supplemented by the work of the composer Karel Cón. On the surface it is an excursion into a true story which took place at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, or the era of the swinging music of the sweet sixties. The same creative team led by director Juraj Nvota that was introduced five years ago on the same stage with the romantic musical Divá Bara now parades in front of the audience again.

A Male Bastion

And as is usually the case, all returns have their advantages and their risks or even negatives. Uhde’s heroine Viki has not escaped this in this part, as a thirty-five-year-old wife with a fifteen-year-old daughter. And bored with her ordinary marriage and decent husband, the appealing Viki falls headlong in love with the enchanting jazzman and leaves her family, even though it sets the whole neighbourhood talking. This is true also for the former lover of this philanderer who is irresistible to women and so is named Marek Bašta. As Uhde repeatedly admitted in the media, the model for the story was the powerful love story between a recently deceased Brno jazz musician and a women from a completely different social background who lived with her husband in a block of flats. She went on holiday with her husband and daughter in a motorbike with sidecar, which appears as a 2D drawing on the stage as a backdrop. And when this Viki Bouzková from the musical script falls in love with the charismatic showman, she moves from a prefab flat to a luxurious first republic villa. And now she plays, sings and dances there but does not say much. In the musical there is little talking and most of the dialogue is sung. So it would not be going too far to say that we are on the borders of a genre that might be termed a swing opera.

Ill Prepared

Just Uhde’s libretto itself deserves critical attention, since in many ways it goes beyond contemporary musical production and has a place somewhere between Mills and Boon, romantic kitsch and a contemporary take on Don Juan. All this can of course be found in today’s sometimes pointless musicals, however here there surfaces also the good and bad features of the old school. What do I mean? The author is an experienced writer, which shows in his vocabulary full of a variety of direct or subtle literary allusions (Vrchlický, Heine, the Song of Solomon or Erben). However those without a literary education, which is most of the public, won’t appreciate it. Unfortunately the experience with grand theatre has not transferred into this tale, the events in which – we must admit – are trivial and sparse. Not even the exciting added value of adoration and continual emphasis on sexuality as a phenomenon of times when people discovered and joyfully cultivated free love can help. Otherwise Bašta’s female backing group has the name Sex-tety, which however does not just refer to it being made up of six women, but also that they will not refuse to offer their leader physical comfort when wanted.  It is this that ultimately breaks up the relationship between Viki and Bašta.

Despite the ostentatious openness with which it talks of sexuality and with which the alpha male Bašta (from the start of course masked as a faithful sensitive plunderer) consumes her, the opening of the second half of the production comes across with unintended humour. After the break events take us to the surgery of the sexologist Stašek (who loves Viki throughout), which is full of various neurotics who have problems with their genitals. If they were consumed with lust like Marek Bašta (who professes a love that tolerates faithful infidelity) then the sexologist Stašek would be out of work. But since Viki is pure, faithful and married, she blunders into his surgery. She has a problem! For her sexual glutton “she is not able to be ready quickly” and then “needs to awaken her lust”. This dramatic solution in a flood of texts about love, freedom, divorce and other unattractive earthly matters, will bring the female part of the audience in particular to their knees.

Also Uhde’s constant rhymes also seem a little too much but I remain a fan of this author’s prosody. Uhde’s dialogue, mostly in verse, shows the special quality of his taste.

Swing and Jazz

In the musical Viki kráčí za štěstím this true story from the beginnings of normalisation (the period that followed the Russian invasion in 1968) is set to the tones of jazz, swing and even the overtones of rock and roll. And I have to say that especially Cón’s musical expedition is a pleasant way to take the listener back in time. In the flood of imaginative and pleasantly rhythmic original music there are also repeated references and motifs from the famous jazz hit In the Mood, as we know it from the immortal recording by Glenn Miller and which frames the swing conception of the musical. The whole piece offers several songs that are in the form of blues, music that directly gave the foundations for jazz, ragtime, rock and roll and rock.

A strong point of the evening is the traditional rhythmic and rich sound of the orchestra under the leadership of Dan Kalousek, which is a constant theme in recent reviews. Similarly even in this time dramatically thin and quite unassuming storyline Nvota’s direction helped the actors to create, within the bounds of possibility, the dramatic set pieces that bring out the strengths but also paradoxically the weaknesses of this work. As the main heroine Lucie Bergerová was wonderful, avoiding making Viki merely the passive figure of a romantically sweet woman seeking her fatal, although poor quality, love. The vocal perfection of Bergerová is also present in Viktorie Matušovová in the role of the excluded lover and cleaner Malášková. In the finale the young musical actress gave the figure of this vengeful figure and used woman the demonic dimension of the ancient Furies and her last solo was an experience in full voice and acting emotion. Petr Štěpán also manages to embody the lovelorn flirt Bašta. His hero is of course also thanks to his scripted ambiguity and birefringence (in the beginning he does not have just the negative traits of a promiscuous seducer, then hiding behind “faith in infidelity”) mostly of a television seducer from some cheap burlesque. As is traditional the choruses were excellent, whether the Sex-tety or Bašta’s rejected women. It is also important to pick out the truly imaginative and pulsing choreography of Jaroslava Moravčíka, who makes Viki kráčí za štěstím in places close to being a dance musical and offers some truly agile and resourceful numbers. Zuzana Štefunková–Rusínová manages to creatively give her costumes a period feel. The scenery by her husband Tomáš Rusín then uses the mentioned 2D effects of drawn comics and so enlivens the whole bitter comedy. The musical Viki kráčí za štěstím will please connoisseurs of swing standards and will please fans of this genre who go to the Brno Municipal Theatre for this genre.

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