Last Sunday I went to see the musical Live! by Nijmegen’s amateur group Stamppij. A musical about losing yourself completely in someone else’s fake virtual life, to the extend that you forget how to live your own life. A very interesting concept, scarily true to today’s reality. But what made me want to see this musical most wasn’t even the plot, but the fact that it was written and directed by a few of the same people last year’s Maria Magdalena (at least I recognized writer Samantha Janssen and musical leader Jelle Roosen). That had been such a phenomenal musical, way above amateur level, that I had high expectations of Live! as well.
The stage decor looked very promising. A couple of dozen TV screens were hanging on both sides of the stage. All of them displayed the Live! logo. Above the stage were TV screens as well, which were turned off. I wondered how the screens would be used during the play. Lots could be possible! On the back of the stage was a huge metal gate. It looked both phenomenal and imposing.
The play started with a very eerie atmosphere. Lots of dull-dressed citizens were slowly moving forward as if they were zombies. Their weird movements and hollow eyes made it quite creepy to watch. A brilliant way to start the musical. It got me hooked immediately and I wanted to know what got these people in this troubled state.
The zombies turned out to be actual, real-life people. Their zombie-like state was caused by years and years of daily rut combined with being exposed to gruesome realities on TV. At least, that’s what we were made to believe at this point. One man, calling himself The Master, decided this should stop. His goal was to bring back happiness into the world again. He would do it by banning all TV-shows except for his own: the one of a boy named Thomas.
Thomas, played by Yuri Stevens, grew up in a town were everything was positive and cheerful. He didn’t have a bad day in his life. People saw him grow up, every minute of every day, until he became the fully grown man he was now. His daily life was located in a make-believe-town, filled with actors who’s solely purpose was to make Thomas happy. And of course Thomas thought everything was real. Very Truman Show-like, yes.
One can only guess that this life didn’t make Thomas happy at all. Of course at some point he wondered if this was all there was to life. Again, just like Mr. Truman. What was different though, was that Thomas’ misery wasn’t caused solely by his longing to escape the daily rut. His misery was enhanced by everyone in the village by completely dismissing his feelings. Since The Master wanted to display happiness only, the other actors had to either ignore Thomas’ depressive state or even lock him in an isolated cell. The audience wasn’t supposed to see him cry, getting mad or being depressed. Happy Kodak moments only. Thomas had the perfect life, even when he didn’t. The Truman Show slowly turned into our real world of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where we show the world how perfectly happy we are, while we are actually hiding behind our masks of misery and imperfection.
This plot alone was very powerful, but the actor playing Thomas made it all the more touching. His expressions showed true pain, depression and despair. This was especially heartbreaking during the moments where all his loved ones abandoned him while he actually needed them most.
It wasn’t all about Thomas though. He wasn’t the only one effected by The Master’s twisted mind. All the actors in the village were too. Two people had to give up true love in order to keep up appearances. Some people wanted to comfort Thomas, but weren’t allowed to. Living this pretended happy life wasn’t only messing with Thomas’ head. It was making everyone miserable. This gave the story even more depth, which was awesome.
And then there was intern Emma (Sophie Brus) who tried to put an end to all of this. I loved her, because she was starting her journey thinking this Media Park town really was the perfect world, and slowly starting to despise it all. She was the only one who truly wanted to help Thomas and who truly thought escaping this facade was possible. She was casted so well. She had this young, frivolous look and a super happy, cute smile which fitted her innocent character perfectly. But she was also able to transform into a strong young woman with a clear vision. And her voice was beautiful.
I won’t tell much more about the story, as I don’t want go give away vital spoilers in case this musical will be performed again. Because if it will, it is something you will have to watch and experience ourself. I do want to give a shout-out to a few more actors though, as they really stood out in my opinion.
The first one is The Master, played by Lennart Pluim. I already mentioned his character, but I haven’t yet told you how much I LOVED the actor playing him. He was mean to the core and his whole being became that despicable person. His eyes looked as if they could kill you instantly. (That’s actually also a big shout-out to the make-up artist, as they did a remarkable job on his face as well, making it all the more evil.) He made me think of Lord Voldemort a bit (although with a much prettier face).
Then there was Thomas’ wife, played by Shari Schmidt. She really showed her pain in her eyes, but she was also very much able to pretend it wasn’t there. That’s a very difficult thing to act. I also loved her voice. Thomas’ best friend (Bart Lever) also did a remarkable job. I especially loved his duet with Thomas. And the last favorite actor, well actress of mine was the main gatekeeper (Annette Driessen). She looked tough and stern in the beginning, but little by little she showed her softer, caring side. I loved to see her development. And her voice was so incredibly strong and multi-facetted.
In the beginning of this article I wrote that the decor looked very promising. It turned out these promises were fulfilled. The enormous gate was moved around the stage a couple of times and every time it got opened or closed, it was accompanied by a sound effect of a heavy metal door. Perfect. And although it looked massive, the actors were perfectly able to move and turn it as they pleased. It resulted in different viewpoints which made the play all the more interesting.
The screens were sometimes used to display what the audience of they reality show got to see, and sometimes we saw what happened behind the screens. One time there was this very piercing look of The Master, which was awesome, but there was something missing there as well… His make-up… And his make-up was part of what gave him his evil look. Without it, he seemed too regular. It just wasn’t the same character.
The songs were, again as expected, of very high standard. There was so much diversity too, from classical songs to variety show style and from an a capella song to modern dance. There were beautiful duets, amazing choir harmonies and stunning solos. The only thing was, those solos were often not very audible. I really had trouble understanding the words sometimes. This had nothing to do with the singers, who were singing like there was no tomorrow. The music was just way too loud for the solos. That was such a shame, as the lyrics were obviously the most important aspect and the actors were giving it all to perform their very best. It’s a shame that a technical detail influenced their amazing performances that much.
I had expected to see a stunning musical and that was exactly what I got. Live! was presented as an amateur musical, but the only thing amateur about it was that the actors were doing this as a hobby instead of as a job. I was touched by the actors and the story, to the extend that I was sobbing shamelessly during their very last song. To me this musical wasn’t just a story. It was a realization. During their last song it fully hit me; I too have to stop watching others being happy and successful. I have to start living that life myself. It is so easy living off other’s happiness, using it as your own fuel. Fuel for what though? It doesn’t get you anywhere… During that last song, I vowed to myself to start watching less and doing more. I will not be like all those zombie citizens. I will not be like Thomas either, living a fake life without even realizing it. I will be like Emma, determined to make my own choices and truly live.
Live! Has had their last performance on April 10th, 2016, so sadly, you cannot visit this musical anymore. However, if you would like to make sure to stay updated on their future performances, visit their website or like their Facebook page.