Spring Awakening

by Susan Getgood on May 4, 2009

in Theater

We saw the musical Spring Awakening yesterday. I knew it had won quite a few Tonys in 2007, so had pretty high expectations, but didn’t know much else.

I was blown away.

The juxtaposition of the 1890s setting of the story and the pop-rock score lets us enjoy the performances on multiple levels. First, there is the play about upper class morality and repression in late 19th century Germany — and let’s not miss the point that we still suffer from many of the same social ills and stupidity. Layered within that play is the inner monologue sung and danced by the teenage protagonists. The score is superb, and can easily be enjoyed on its own as a pop-rock album, but the choreography is what makes the story on stage. Abrupt, angry and awkward when expressing teen angst, both sweet and awkward when exploring the “spring awakening” of the principal couple.

The performances. Superb, every one. Not a single false note.

Other things I really liked.
The first act is exhuberant. There is an underlying angst, but there is also hope. It ends with Wendla and Melchior making love. The second act, on the other hand, brings down all the repression of the time. There is little hope, at least until the end. This is punctuated by using the lovemaking between Wendla and Melchior to end the first and begin the second. The actors do the same movements, but in the opening to the second act, it’s framed by repression and guilt, not youthful joy and hesitancy at the unknown. And as one of the characters tells us, things get worse….

Only one actor and actress for all the adult roles. Apart from the practical, that none of the adult “parts” are that big, using only two actors underscores how faceless repression is. It’s not about people or feelings. It’s about rules and regulations.

Yes, the second act song Totally Fucked is a great anthem for our times. Let’s face it, haven’t we all felt that way at one time? But you have to see it on stage to really appreciate it –both the way it fits the storyline and the amazing choreography. This clip on YouTube from the 2007 Tonys gives you some idea — it’s the last song on the clip — but the initial delivery of the opening line — “There’s a moment you know… you’re fucked” — is priceless.

And not on the clip.

So, see it if you can. Next stops on the National Tour after it leaves Boston at the end of May are Pittsburgh, Louisville and Baltimore.

Spring Awakening is based on a 19th century play of the same name that had been banned for years for its discussion of teenage sexuality, rape, abortion and suicide. If you’d like to know more about the storyline, and the differences between the play and the musical, check out the Wikipedia entry.

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