With the power and energy that blew up all of Broadway just two years ago, Spring Awakening, the amazing work of theatre which tells the story of a group of youngins in a provincial, conservative and probably boring turn-of-the-century German town has come to rock Washington, DC. And let me tell you kiddos, sharing this experience with the bluehairs that go to the Kennedy Center made the themes and stories of the piece seem more relevant than when I saw it in NYC. For as much as we love this wonderful little city of ours, we must admit that maybe perhaps this place can at times seem conservative and this seemed apparent to me in hearing the hushed gasps and snickers of disapproval among some of the shows attendees. So then, what an eye-opening experience attending this show was.
On the surface, Spring Awakening is a pop/rock work of musical theatre that not only features extremely young and extremely talented actor/singers but has earned the highest accolades, and fittingly so, that can be bestowed upon a work of professional theatre. Spring Awakening isn’t a musical as much as it is an experience, and at times a very intimate, personal experience. But right under the belting, modern-dancing, hormonal surface is a story that is relateable to anybody who ever basically was a young person. Spring Awakening is the story of the cool guy, the artsy girl. the shy nerd, the gay kid, the quiet weirdo in the back. It’s the story of the communication breakdown that occurs between the young, ever-learning, all-absorbing, hypersensitive teen and the by-the-book, predictable, perhaps, self-oppressed adults the create their unchanging, rigid rules.
When the young, smart, popular bad-boy Melchoir challenges the school’s authorities, he and his friends become wrapped in discovering the truth behind sex and love. Meanwhile, the sister school is also taking part in the same awakening. Though childhood friends, Wendla and Melchoir are now old enough to understand what it means to fall in love. And the innocent courting evolves into something more powerful and longer-lasting than a first-time fling. In a series of scenes woven with rock songs (the actors use handheld mics), the story of Spring Awakening unravels to reveal passion, humor, tragedy and a much more powerful sincerity that one would expect from your run-of-the-mill musical that basically ends with the message: parents, stop being assholes to your kids or you’ll get what’s coming. Actually, the messages conveyed are more important than that. But you’ll just have to check out the show to discover them for yourself.
The cast is young and the energy is high. And while Christy Altomare (Wendla) may have a small voice for the massive space that is the Eisenhower theatre (and eventhough all songs are mic’ed), her presence, her work is compelling enough to carry her through the entire show. Jake Epstein as the hero Melchoir conveyed the bravura, sexuality and confidence that can only come from an 18-year-old high schooler. And in this case, kiddoes, this is perfect. After all, kiddies, this is live theatre and what you end up getting from these two talented actors is a genuine youthfulness that might have been missing in the very shiny and polished Broadway production. So then it is easy to forgive the softer voices, or one might even go as far as noting that it fits their characters better. These are just young people, you know, not these old theatre workhorses.
The rest of the ensemble is quite solid too, notably Steffi D who claims in her bio to have been one of 2006 Canadian Idols Top 5 Finalists. But not once do you get the impression that this young lady is a pop-superstar-in-training, rather her portrayal of Ilse, an underage bohemian abandoned by her parents is frank, heartbreaking and pretty damn amazing. Blake Bashoff, as the notoriously conflicted and sexually-repressed Moritz, too carries his own. The guy is fun to watch, no doubt. Props to Anthony Lee Medina whose Otto is anything but just a supporting role. Perhaps the most vibrant male voice in the pack, he brings that very important element of rock/pop to Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s beautiful score.
Basically, Spring Awakening is an instant classic, yinz. A fine work of the theatre that not only improves upon the genre but completely reinvents it for our iPod generation. You’d be a young, bratty, snot-faced punk to miss it, punk!
Books & Lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Directed by Michael Mayer
The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater
July 7th – August 2, 2009
Tickets to the Box Office or charge by phone (202) 467-4600
Order online at kennedy-center.org
photos from flickr user spring returning