Friday, March 06, 2009

Spring Awakening

Explosive, compelling ‘SPRING AWAKENING’ rocks The Palace

‘SPRING AWAKENING,’ which is now appearing on the Palace Theatre stage as part of the Broadway series, isn’t a traditional musical. It isn’t filled with the usual romanticism so often found on Broadway. Instead, it explores the tortured inner lives of adolescents in 19th century Germany. And, in spite of the setting, it’s as modern as today! The problems are the same, the issues are the same, the angst is the same.

The eight-time Tony winner, visually and emotionally probes into the coming of age, the shattering transformation that takes place as children become physical adults and have to face a world of mixed messages.

It explores messages such as sex is not something to be discussed, adults rule the world and make decisions which can be destructive, God’s spokespersons interpret what is right and wrong, often with horrible results, and parents sometimes share misinformation with teens, if they share any information at all. Life is full of potholes, many of which are not of the teen’s doing.

The musical is based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind that was so controversial that it was not produced for almost 15 years after its publication. It may never have seen the light of day if not for the early 20th century writings of psychologist Sigmund Freud, especially his ‘INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS.’

The alt-rock (folk-infused rock score) by Duncan Sheik is forceful, exciting and revealing. Steven Sater’s lyrics paint vivid pictures. The combination fits a play which has masturbation, sex acts, abortion, rape and suicide visible on stage. These images and actions are absolutely necessary to make the ideas clear.

There will be some in the audience who are put off by the musical’s vividness. Some will not come when they hear of the sights. Too bad. These are probably the people the script and lyrics are speaking to and about.

Michael Mayer’s creative directing makes the entire production shimmer with emotion. The characters speak directly to the audience to express their motivations and desires. Using the concept of alienation, the staging, which is done on a setless stage, with light fixtures in full view, is right in the face of the viewer…no hiding behind sets and façade here. To add to the intimacy, some of the audience were seated in bleachers on stage, adding voyeur effect.

The touring cast is excellent. Especially exciting is Blake Bashoff, portraying the conflicted Moritz, a part he performed on Broadway. His “The Bitch of Living” stopped the show. Perry Sherman, who played Melchior, the intellectual challenger of traditional belief systems, performed the role on opening night. His “Totally Fucked” was the dynamic highpoint of the production. The duo’s rendition of “Those You Know,” which was sung with Christy Altomare, was tender and beautifully performed. The rest of the cast was equally impressive.

Watching Clevelander Jared Stein, who conducted the on-stage band, was an experience in and of itself. He is an integral and exciting part of the staging and the band rocked!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘SPRING AWAKENING’ celebrates the journey from youth to adulthood with a power, a poignancy and a passion you will not soon forget. The touring production will hold your attention, challenge your values, and keep you entranced! This is a MUST see!