Saturday, March 03, 2007

Spring Awakening (The SOB Review)

Spring Awakening (The SOB Review) - Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York, NY

***1/2 (out of ****)


Based on a 116 year old German play by Frank Wedekind, it’s hard to believe that a Broadway tuner could elicit such overwhelming power from its source material. But with teen sex, incest, self abuse, gay lust, suicide and abortion playing prominently in the plotline, Spring Awakening is not exactly your grandfather’s musical.

Credit Michael Mayer’s expert direction for enabling this show that grapples with 19th Century German teen angst to motor on at a brisk, riveting pace.

That said, much of Steven Sater’s book on the sexual maturation of teens still comes across as surprisingly predictable. As "shocking" as the material was clearly intended to be, I found myself easily figuring out where this was all headed.

Thankfully, Sater’s collaboration with tunesmith Duncan Sheik on the score is anything but predictable. The songs are about as fresh, smart and downright infectious as anything I’ve seen on Broadway over the past five years. The music effectively amplifies every scene and revs up each actor.

Chief among them is the sensational Jonathan Groff as the bad boy with brains Melchior. He holds what the show’s “adults” (Christine Esterbrook and Stephen Spinella, both excellent) view as an indecent corrupting influence over mediocre student Moritz (a breathtaking John Gallagher, Jr. in a sharp, stunning departure from his role in last year’s Rabbit Hole).

But with sensual charm to spare, Melchior seduces sexually naïve Wendla (an enchanting Lea Michele). The chemistry between the two young lovers is both vital and raw. Only, such outward emotionally charged displays are strictly verboten in this provincial German town, and Melchior soon finds himself sent away to a boys’ reformatory for his indulgences.

As I mentioned above, very adult themes are laid bare in this show. Certainly, this show is not for everyone. Spring Awakening ultimately is highly entertaining, yet I could not help but think that its two most dynamic songs would likely repulse the sensibilities of many who look toward musical theatre as an escape from life’s woes rather than an entrée into them.

Still, if the lovely 77-year old lady from Allentown, Pennsylvania sitting next to me could appreciate the energy of this show, perhaps this just might attract a wider audience in spite of its all too self-aware provocative nature. It's one astounding, astonishing musical.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Is It Just Me, Or...(Part II) (February 21, 2007)
Musicals Versus Plays: You Decide (January 5, 2007)
Spring Awakening Rouses Box Office; Cast To Appear At Big Apple Store (December 12, 2006)
Waking Up To Critical Acclaim (December 11, 2006)
Spring Awakening Blossoms On Broadway Tonight (December 10, 2006)
Curtains To Rise At Al Hirschfeld Theatre In March (November 3, 2006)
Mary Poppins, Grey Gardens Tops Among SOB Readers (October 27, 2006)
How Sheik: Spring Awakenings To Receive Broadway Transfer (July 20, 2006)

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At 06 March, 2007, Blogger Isn't it rich...? said...

Wow. Great review; sounds like a fantastic evening. What fun!

At 06 March, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

If you want to see the top stage actors of tomorrow, this is the show to see.

At 06 March, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve: Yeah, it's quite a show. Vibrant and raw. Full of dynamic performances, imaginative staging, and a very interesting score. But I find that my students are far more enthusiastic about SA than they are about Grey Gardens. Whereas my friends have been more taken by GG. Still, its' nice to know that adventurous shows have a place on Broadway, and that they appeal to a variety of age groups.

At 06 March, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris, I enjoyed Spring Awakening, but loved Grey Gardens. I agree that it's wonderful that Broadway can effectively host both shows.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think when all is said and done, this will be remembered as a banner year for the musical.

At 26 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved all the Tony-nominated musicals, but Spring Awakening, wow. I know how people must have felt when they first saw Hair.

Like you said, it was electrifying, astounding and astonishing. I loved the way rock music is used to tell a story that takes place more than a hundred years ago, the deliberate anachronisms of things like modern microphones and lighting.

And what an energetic, talented cast. I felt like I was at a rock concert in a little club somewhere discovering a great new band. I really can't think of anything to add to your descriptions of Jonathan Groff and John Gallagher Jr. Sensational and breathtaking is right.

When I first read the titles of the songs, I was wondering how they'd fit in, whether they'd be raunchy just for the sake of being raunchy. But the way the cast performed them, they were funny and they worked perfectly and they were really exciting to watch. I definitely agree with you that the score is fresh, smart and infectious.

I also agree with you that in some sense, it was predictable, especially what happened to Wendla. (And Lea Michele has a beautiful voice.) But still, I found myself really moved by the story. At first, I didn't think I'd be all that interested in teenage angst in 19th century Germany. But I felt for these teenagers and what they were going through and the pressures they faced. I think even a predictable story can pack an emotional punch if you care about the characters. And by the end, I was crying.

I loved Grey Gardens and Mary Poppins and, of course, Curtains. For sentimental reasons, because it was the first musical I saw on Broadway, I wanted to give the Tony to Curtains. But when I think of the other three, and of all the musicals I've seen this year, Spring Awakening was just so inventive, so different, so imaginative in the way it told its story. I'd love to see Spring Awakening again, and I'd love to see this cast do another show together.

I don't think that any individual actor in Spring Awakening reaches the heights of Christine Ebersole or Mary Louise Wilson's bravura performances. I loved Grey Gardens, too. But I just loved Spring Awakening a little more.

Spring Awakening was the last show in my seven-musicals-in-five-days marathon. Maybe part of it was reaching the end, but I left the theatre feeling drained and exhilarated and wanting to listen to the music again!

At 15 June, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your review. I'm a bit more conservative than your average Broadway viewer, so I went to this show with a bit of trepidation. However, though there were some bawdy parts, when taken in context and as a whole, I thought this was a great musical.

I hope folks who are worried about the edge don't miss out on seeing this musical. It's message is powerful and at the same time, it's a fun show with great music. On top of that, the lighting is amazing.

At 17 June, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Scott, Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, as well as for letting us know how someone who's a self-professed "conservative" could enjoy the show.

Still, I don't think my parents would be up for seeing it (or most other shows on the Great White Way) - they couldn't get past the F-Bombs...


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