Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Spring Awakening

Brace yourselves - This one is gonna be a hit! Broadway finally has a new, edgy Rock n' Roll musical that will stick. Grammy award winning Duncan Sheik wrote all the music - a fact that many a theater-goer might even pick up on even without reading the Playbill. And let's not forget this story must have been a true shocker when written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind who is considered one of the founders of modern drama and a real pioneer of the concept of expressionism in the theatre.

The musical today so cleverly juxtaposes the Wedekind dialogue of teenage coming of age in the 1890's with Sheik's biting and angst filled Rock n' Roll lyrics. The resulting message is clear and ageless - kids through all ages have the same problems - - suicide, abuse, growing up gay, sex, abortion, not fitting in, and of course, parental influence. All that really changes is the calendar and the costume.

The actors in this production have a deep connection to the subject matter. Most all of them are actually between 16 and 21 and have grown up with this production over the past 6 years as it made its way to Broadway from the Atlantic Theater Company off-Broadway. The talent is raw, true, and natural. It's not a bunch of 30 year old actors on stage pretending to be kids. It makes all the difference. You feel for these kids and connect with their emotions.

For many of the actors, this is their Broadway debut. While there is a true lead actor and actress (Jonathan Groff as Melchoir and Lea Michele as Wendla) - it's the ensemble that makes this one pop! We get to see the boys belt out their talents right from the beginning in "The Bitch of Living" and the entire ensemble rock the house in "Totally Fucked". It would really be a treat to see John Gallagher, Jr. (Moritz) walk up on stage next July at Radio City Music Hall to collect his Tony for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.

With an "open" stage and steps down to the first row in the audience the actors seem to flow right into your world on several occasions. There's also 4 rows of bleacher style seating on stage on each side. Be prepared if you sit there. The cast sits among you when they are not performing; they burst into song and jump to their feet and stand on the chairs when you least expect your neighbor to be doing so! The Band is also placed upstage and in a rare move joins the cast and takes a formal bow with the cast - emphasizing their importance to the show's delivery. Each of them also has an individual mention in the playbill. Just as the show is about juxtaposition - so must the lighting be. Kevin Adams, lighting designer, takes the stage from monologue to dialogue to solo and melancholy ballads to foot stomping rock and roll and back all over again flawlessly.

These kids earned the standing ovation they got... and then some! Run, don't walk.