Thursday, August 02, 2007

Spring Awakening - rude awakening

Ok, so maybe not so harsh. But I'm not sure this was a Tony-worthy show. The premise is interesting. Take an interesting piece of material - a turn-of-the-century provincial German town where a bunch of teenagers are discovering their hormones and sexuality, surrounded by a prudish, hypocritical bunch of adults (Catholic school, etc.) that shames them and hides information from them, leaving them to explore on their own...with results that range from comic to touching to tragic. Then combine that material, with all its period dialogue and costumes, with indie rock music - a score that could've been written by Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, the Gin Blossoms, Coldplay, .... OK, the list is probably dated and showing my age, but you get the idea. There's a lot of potential in the material. But ultimately I think the composers' craft wasn't quite up to the job of doing it justice. Besides the fact that they chose a medium (the indie rock song, with its deliberately simplistic lyrics) that makes it difficult to elevate the songs to the level of craft required to match the material, the lyrics often venture into the territory of insipid. There's also a weird juxtaposition of the very real characters of the teenagers vs. the caricatures of the adults that is more incongruous than effective. Most of the characters bring out handheld mics during the songs, clearly an affectation given today's technical sophistication, and a few of the Act 2 songs are sung "American Idol style", with a character grabbing a mic stand, dragging it stage center, emoting the song spastically with their arms while keeping feet rooted to the floor. Highly ineffective, and made me think the director just ran out of time to stage those scenes: "Just grab a mic stand and pretend you're on Idol." Clearly this show puts itself in the same genre-bending category as Rent. But Rent succeeds because its level of craftsmanship is higher, and because it rewrote the book to bring it up to date. Such a timeless story that would fit perfectly into our times, but the period placement makes for a distraction. Structurally, the show raises the question whether the musical form can work with an indie-rock score. Based on this one data point I think the answer is "maybe, but this show doesn't do it." Nonetheless, it's important to keep pushing the form. In that sense, Spring Awakenings is an important show, and I'm glad I saw it. But I don't think it should have gotten the Tony.

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