Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spring Awakening Revisited

While I'm not sure what the future of this blog is, I have a play to review! Last night I went to see the Broadway tour of "Spring Awakening." I saw Spring Awakening when I lived in DC, and was regularly reviewing plays for this blog. So I came here looking to see what I had to say about Spring Awakening a year and a half ago, and was disappointed to see I had not written about it. So while it would have been great to see what I thought then and now, I can only offer up my thoughts about last night, possibly stacked up against my memories of the last performance.

Spring Awakening is a really interesting musical. Its a rock musical about teenagers in the 1800's Germany. Its lively and racy, poignant and rowdy, with a spirited sense of humor. The music is catchy and stays with you. Its really unlike a typical musical. The musical I would compare it to most in spirit is RENT, but even that is only sort of in spirit. I haven't seen as many new musicals as I would like, and Spring Awakening premiered in 2006. However, Spring Awakening is really something special.

The subject matter is not easy, it deals with a number of issues that wouldn't seem out of place on any teen drama on TV today. And this my be one of the most appealing things about Spring Awakening, the themes are timeless. Even though the characters of the show are living in 1800's Germany their problems are not outdated, but sometimes almost painfully timely.

The show has a number of well formed teenage characters. Interestingly, the adult characters are all played by the same two characters. The main characters are Wendla, a sheltered young girl, Melchior, a young man at odds with stifling smallness of his world, and Moritz, who is at in crisis from essentially the first scene. The play centers around these three young people and their hopes, dreams, and heartbreaks.

All three of these actors were very good in this touring cast. The actor who plays Melchior really has to carry the show, and the young actor here was more than up to the challenge. It's not an easy role, he has a lot of music to sing and his acting has to cover a lot of emotional range. I would say that the show really rests on Melchiors shoulders. So I was happy to find that he had a really powerful, pleasant voice, and a lot of acting range.

Both touring productions of Spring Awakening I've seen were costumed identically, and staged and choreographed very similarly. While both were touring cast the production I saw at the Kennedy Center was there for several weeks, while this was the single night in Eugene of the tour. This translates into this set being simpler. The first touring set has a platform that raised up into the air at a crucial point in the story. This one simply did not. I don't think that this raising platform was necessary, but very effective. However, the show does not suffer for the lack of fancy moving set pieces.

These identical productions are interesting. I'm not sure how common it is in the theatre world, but both productions were almost identical, in terms of staging and choreography. I wonder if this homogeneity of production makes theatre more like film? The same show over and over with different actors going through the motions? I'm not sure how I feel about this. I enjoyed it both times. However I think one of the exciting things about theatre is the differences. Its wonderful to get to see the same material imagined different ways, breathing new life into the same production. Yet, what happens on stage for Spring Awakening clearly works, so why mess with a good thing? This way more and more people get to see the production with the original intent.

Spring Awakening is presented in one of my favorite ways: very presentationally. The set is evocative of things, rather than realistic. The characters all sing with hand held mics, although I suspect they are wearing body mics at all. The choreography is very stylized. One important scene takes place with two characters standing downstage, about ten feet apart, both singing out instead of to each other. One of my favorite songs, charmingly called "Totally F*cked" is a showpiece of some of the most exuberant, stylized dancing (and singing) I've ever seen on stage. This song got a round of applause so long it bordered on ridiculous.

Sometimes I end up being a cheerleader of sorts for musicals. I love them. I know a lot of people don't. They find people randomly breaking into song cheesy and schmaltzy. Or alternately, people think that musicals are not are powerful and theatrical as straight plays (anything without music). However, just as there is a huge variety in the strength and power of straight plays, musicals can be many different things. I think that Spring Awakening could be a strong play without the music. I think it might turn into something like "The History Boys," witty and poignant and very focused on the words. But it does have music. The songs in Spring Awakening are never a crutch, instead the music helps the characters express those feelings that are somehow inexplicable just through words. Spring Awakening is an amazing mixture of sauciness and sadness. It contains one of the most shocking sex scenes I've ever seen on stage, and I've seen some surprising things. Yet the show also has a number of songs that never fail to make me cry. And not because the show is manipulative, but because its full of such honest, real emotion. And this is really the beauty of Spring Awakening.