Those of you looking for something different on Broadway may want to check out Spring Awakening. I had the opportunity to catch this show last week and wasn’t really sure what to expect. And I left the theater still trying to figure out exactly what I had just seen, which in this case is a good thing.
The show is a meditation on the struggles of adolescence and the disconnect between children at the age of burgeoning sexuality and parents who aren’t quite ready to unlock the secrets of that world for them yet. And the troubling disconnect is the place from which all the drama of this exuberant show springs.
It’s a little bit Rent, a little bit History Boys. It’s set in the 1890’s in Germany (based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind that was banned for nearly 100 years) and deals with first love, masturbation, suicide, homosexuality, and growing up. The musical score by Duncan Sheik is angsty, raucous, melancholy, and with numbers like “Totally Fucked”, amusingly irreverent.
There are only two adults in the entire cast, played by Christine Estabrook and Stephen Spinella. It’s great to see a young cast on Broadway being allowed to really take on adult themes. John Gallagher, Jr., who plays the ne’er do well, misunderstood Moritz (and starts the clip above ‘The Bitch of Living’), is the cast’s standout.
If there’s any gripe I have with the show, it’s that I wish some of the more minor characters had their stories brought out more at the expense of the romantic leads, whom I found far less interesting than some of their co-stars. Also, there are a few tragic plot points that are resolved too conveniently for such a mature production. The story is rendered in such broad strokes that it’s hard to feel intimate with any of the characters. As a coming-of-age rock opera, however, it succeeds on a purely musical level.
Upon reading the Playbill I counted nearly 30 producers. When this show makes it to the Tonys, as it should, we’ll be waiting a long time for them to rattle off that list of names, which includes Tom Hulce and Maverick Records founder Freddy DeMann.
Spring Awakening is an engaging, often challenging, energized production that I found to be a breath of fresh air. I recommend it.