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Ever since I was eleven years old, I’ve wanted to see a musical. I remember Miss Saigon playing at that time, starring a girl that had attended the same high school as I did. I wanted to see her play to badly! But of course eleven-year old girls don’t go to musicals by themselves and no-one took me. So I never got to see it, which I regret to this day.

When I was older, I never bought a musical ticket either. Sometimes because I didn’t have the money, sometimes because I felt the musicals weren’t touching enough. I didn’t care so much for the huge bombastic musicals with enormous head pieces, brightly colored costumes and elaborate dance choreographies. I still wanted to see a piece much like Miss Saigon: touching, heart breaking and tear jerking.

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And suddenly that musical popped onto my screen, while I was browsing the city’s theater agenda. ‘Het Meisje Met Het Rode Haar’ (The Girl With The Red Hair) would play in Nijmegen. The very next day! And surprisingly there were still tickets left. This had to be fate calling out to me. I didn’t hesitate and ordered two tickets. My impulsivity was greatly rewarded. Just read on to see why.

Review: ‘Het Meisje Met Het Rode Haar’

‘Het Meisje Met Het Rode Haar’ is a musical based on the novel written by Theun de Vries. It’s a true story of a girl, Hannie Schaft, who joined the Resistance in World War II. When she loses someone close to her, her drive to fight for freedom becomes even stronger.

The story was very touching. Living without freedom, having to fight for it and losing people you love to a terrible regime, such heavy themes. And we got so see it through the eyes of a girl, a regular, Dutch girl who had nothing to fear because she wasn’t a Jew. Yet she cared so much for the people around her, that she decided to risk her life for them. And although she may not have been a Jew, her freedom was also taken from her. She was prepared to risk everything she had in order to get her freedom back.

Roos van Erkel, who played Hannie, portrayed the girl very delicately. At the same time, she also showed her strength and bravery. Her love for Hugo (played by Jim Bakkum) came a bit sudden in my opinion. We saw them getting closer, but this could easily have been a strong friendship growing. I would have loved to see more tension or some sparks between them before her declaration of love.

Apart from that, the story completely captured me. Especially in the first part I saw a clear connection with our world today. The story might be about World War II, but freedom and exclusion of a particular group of people are things that are very prominent today as well, unfortunately. Seeing this story made me realize how so many people feel right now; robbed from their freedom, unsafe and misunderstood by so many of us. That really got to me.

Later on the story got so intense though, there was no room for links to our world anymore. At least not in my head. I was completely consumed by the story on stage. The contrast between creating strong bonds and losing people, between getting hope for freedom and having your expectations crushed was so enormous. These contrasts made it heart-breaking, which I loved.

The songs were so powerful as well. They were so delicate, especially the sad songs. But even the happy songs were modest, for a musical that is. No big dances, no exaggerated bright costumes or loud trumpets, just happiness in its purest form. That was exactly what I wanted to see. It fitted the story perfectly and made it all so much more truthful.

What surprised me was Jim Bakkum’s voice. I knew him because he won a talent show many years back. At that time he didn’t have the greatest voice. He could sing well, but it all sounded kind of the same. But he has improved so much over the years! His voice actually touched me the most! The moment he opened his mouth for the first time, I felt goose bumps. It was delicate and vigorous, sensitive and powerful all at once.

I’d also like to give some special credits to Sjoerd Pleijsier, who actually played multiple roles. But he most captured me in his role as father of Hannie. With just one hesitant look he could portray his love for her, his admiration for her as well as his fear of losing her. He also played a German soldier (talk about contrast!). I kind of wished they would have casted German actors for this, because his accent, as well as that of the other soldiers, was pretty Dutch. But I must say, apart from the accent, he played this role really well.

And then there’s well-known musical actress Joke de Kruijf. She played Hannie’s mother, which she did really beautiful. The most touching moment was her song to her daughter, which made me cry.

The use of the stage was also subliminal. I don’t get to see professional productions that often. I was completely in awe. The decor looked amazing and changed so flawlessly. I mean, letting it snow on stage? Creating a forest in seconds? Let a ceiling magically appear from the floor? I could only wish our theater group could afford such techniques. Some things didn’t require a lot of technique though, but we’re powerful nonetheless, such as the curtain closing a bit in certain scenes as to make the stage smaller and more intimate. Or the position of the actors, who often used the stage in a beautifully choreographed way. This was a huge inspiration for me as a theater maker.

And the ending? Wow. Just wow. Scenes from the beginning of the play suddenly made a lot more sense and even shocked me. I cried a river during the last scene and I was completely devastated to see the curtain close. Not only because it was over, but because I had to clap. That seemed like such a silly, cheerful thing to do. I even wanted to give them a standing ovation, but didn’t know how. I had to get my act together first. I needed time to process it all. I’ve never felt like that at the end of a play. Most of the times, clapping enthusiastically is no problem at all after seeing something I really loved. Now it was and that made me love the play even more. And yes, they got their standing ovation from me in the end, after taking some deep breaths.

I wish I could see this musical again. They will only perform until the end of January though. I just don’t know whether I got the means to buy tickets so soon. But if it’s possible in any way, I would definitely go see it again. And if you haven’t yet, and live in or near the Netherlands, I advise you to go see it as well. If you’d like to know where they will perform, check this tour calendar.

As you may know, visiting a musical was one of my 101 goals! Mission accomplished!

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