Spring Awakening, which was an acclaimed hit last summer at the Atlantic Theatre Company, is now a stunning triumph on Broadway, and the American musical may never be the same again. Duncan Sheik has created a fantastic rock score and Steven Sater has provided equally impressive lyrics as well as a faithfully bold adaptation of the 1891 German Expressionist play by Frank Wedekind that the musical is based on.
Beginning life as a workshop Spring Awakening’s journey to Broadway has been seven years in the making. Not just another revival, or musical made from a film, here is a fresh cutting edge original that breaks new ground for Broadway musicals. The story about teenagers discovering their sexuality and attempting to grow up, while the adults strive to repress them is a coming of age tale with a universal message. Remarkable for an unflinching honesty that captures the sexual awakening of the young, the evening has a striking authenticity of emotions. The Wedekind play with its frank look at sexuality, takes on masturbation, homosexuality, sadomasochism, incest, teen pregnancy, and abortion, topics that are just as timely today as when the play was first written.
Spring Awakening is told principally through the eyes of three teenagers, who are struggling with the emotional angst of their sexual yearnings. There is the woman-child Wendla (Lea Michele), the handsome rebel Melchior (Jonathan Groff), and the misunderstood loner Moritz (John Gallagher, Jr.). Their story is an attack on a rigid society that values outward appearances, while sweeping the truth about human sexual urges under the carpet resulting in repression and ignorance.
Wedekind’s play was considered controversial for it’s time and his theatre stretched traditional dramatic structures by using stylized dialogue along with episodic storytelling.
The intention was to articulate the interior emotional life of the characters with all their attendant complexities and fantasies.
In staging Spring Awakening director Michael Mayer and his outstanding design team has not only managed to make the musical feel contemporary, but also has given the evening a purity that captures the intensity of these teenager’s tormented passions . Mayer has come up with a dynamic device; he has the cast pull out hand mikes to deliver the rock tunes directly to the audience. This baring of the soul juxtaposed with the stylized language is strikingly effective, giving the evening an edgy tone that is smart and energizing. The dichotomy of the surface life with the interior emotional life becomes perfectly clear. When these characters sing; we hear their truth and are ultimately moved by their conflicts.
The rock music has a melodramatic quality that makes abrupt shifts capturing the perfect tone to depict the raging hormones of these youngsters. The choreography by Bill T. Jones bursts with physical aggression, adding a jolting effect to the musical numbers that gives the feeling of being hit by lightning. The unusual lighting by Kevin Adams with neon tubes, hanging bulbs and marvelous effects compliments the show beautifully.
The evening comes together in bits and pieces and at first you are not certain which of the stories to follow, but eventually in the second act the main characters take center stage, but now as representatives of the several unfolding stories. The accumulation of events and different storylines makes the tragedy and sorrow of the ending all the more poignant.
The ensemble of young actors is fabulous. Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele give convincingly nuanced performances that are organically built on the interior truth of their struggle, giving the evening an added resonance that is absolutely devastating. All of the adults are played by Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella and stage veteran Christine Estabook, who turn in excellent stylized work that is grounded in reality as well.
Bravo, the evening is a calculated risk for everyone involved and the results are seductively mesmerizing.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published on Hamptons.com
Spring Awakening opened on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, 230 West 49th Street between Broadway & 8th Avenue on December 10, 2006. Tickets can be purchased online at HYPERLINK "http://www.telecharge.com" www.telecharge.com , or call 212-239-6200, or at the theater box office.