Feels Like the First Time: Spring Awakening
I've been asked by about 10 people to weigh in on Spring Awakening, whose national tour is currently writhing through Philly's Academy of Music. However, rather than write a review, which my colleague Toby Zinman has already done very nicely in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, I'll just say that I loved it, and instead, offer a list of 10 thoughts (one for each of you) Spring Awakening awoke in me.
10: Northeast Philly got something right. I know, I know, it's the "Great Northeast," but so far, the greatest contribution they've made to the performing arts landscape is Blake Bashoff (at left, with Kyle Riabko as Melchior), a Washington High grad who plays the troubled (ok, they're all troubled) Moritz. Maybe I've forgotten some great Neezer (besides my cousin AJ Slick, who happens to be the best Stevie Ray Vaughn cover artist ever to sling on a Gibson). If I have, I'm sure someone will remind me.
9: The Spring Awakening song "Totally Fucked" sounds a lot like the Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson song "Life Sucks." In fact, both shows share a similar theme. A rock musical about 19th century adolescents? An emo musical about the adolescent behavior of a future president? Same diff.
8: I was surprised to see how closely the musical stuck to Frank Wedekind's source material. A season or two ago, a local company (Or rather, local now. They arrived in our fair city from New Orleans by way of a gal named Katrina.), EgoPo Productions, did an expressionistic rendering of the original, complete with masks. It was startling stuff, and I'm pretty psyched that we regional viewers came in on the later end of the musical's run, if only because it gave the locals a chance to capitalize on Broadway's fortunes while simultaneously supplementing and enriching our overall theatergoing experience. More, please.
7: I'm on board with Sheik's/Sater's decision to intensify Martha's suffering in "The Dark I Know Well," changing her abuse from merely physical to both physical and sexual. Why? In a play about children's victimization by the adults charged with their care, incest is one of the few secrets Wedekind avoided, but its inclusion makes perfect sense.
6: I'm not on board with Michael Mayer's decision to make Wendla such an obviously willing participant in her... What is it? Seduction? Rape? Sexual baptism? The original take ain't pretty, but neither are the ragged emotions of Wedekind's kinder. When you're 14, sometimes no really does mean yes, and even when it doesn't, you spend years wondering if maybe it did after all. That confusion, particularly in light of Wendla's begging Melchior to beat her, also made perfect sense.
5: If you follow my Twitter/Facebook feed, I apologize for repeating myself, but I still think my favorite emotion is whatever attaches itself to a minor chord. I guess it's something between yearning and anticipation, maybe both. The best way to maintain that feeling is to make your own Duncan Sheik station on Pandora. It's like listening to the cast recording, but quieter.
4: Melchior's philosophical transformation and friendship with Moritz, among other things, reminded me of Leopold and Loeb, which reminded me that there's yet another take on their story opening here in August. Mauckingbird Theatre's production will mark the third show I've seen about those two nasty little sociopaths. Why, after all these years and crimes, do Leopold and Loeb still fascinate?
3: While discussing the show over a drink with my pal Jim Rutter, the Broad Street Review's dance/theater critic, I asked him why he liked this one so much, but disliked Rent. He answered that Rent glorified its characters, while Spring Awakening's characters (and emotions) were so much more genuine. That's true, even if it sort of misses Rent's point. But I'd wager there wouldn't be a musical Spring Awakening if Rent hadn't taken on La Boheme first.
2: What kind of a moron would bring their little kid to see a show like that? And if parents are too lazy to do their own homework, can't we at least help those kids out so they're not stuck sitting between mommy and daddy watching a sexy teen proto-Nazi masturbate onstage to Desdemona's murder? People love theater, they love turning their kids on to theater, just not necessarily, you know, turning them on. Why do movies and video games require ratings, but not theater? Sure, it's an imperfect system, and I'm not in favor of policing people's parenting, or censorship, or ignorance, but since, as Spring Awakening so deftly illustrates, parents are clueless, and more important, theaters aren't looking to alienate anyone these days, why not offer them a big fat clue right on the ads?
1: To protect the innocent, I'm keeping the year of my own forest-heavy "Purple Summer" to myself. I will say this, though: the music and circumstances may be slightly different, but it's both terrifying and comforting to know that for 118 years--at least--the lyrics to those songs have remained the same.