Went to see SPRING AWAKENING, the Broadway musical that got so much Tony attention last year and such critical acclaim as the most “revolutionary” thing that had happened to musicals in years.
Based on a German play set in the 1890s, but with an updated “book” and “rock’ music (band on the stage ala many recent musicals, since RENT at least). It has been described so often as something unbelievably exciting and new and fresh and provocative and innovative and etc. that I was expecting, I don’t know, something new and fresh and etc.
But the plot was melodramatic, literally, and combined with the style of the lyrics and “rock” music, it came across to me as the ultimate “emo” musical (with just a touch of "punk").
Not an entirely bad thing. The audience I saw it with was mostly high school and college age, as was the cast (i.e. college and recent college age playing high school age) and accordingly “got” it in ways I may be a little too jaded to totally accept as anything I haven’t seen before.
But it did bring a tear to my eye at one point toward the end of the piece (and not where the story and direction was trying to manipulate me into getting a tear in my eye) and the big production number was dynamic and energizing like the big production number should be, even if the lyrics could have been written by almost any young person rebelling against the stifling impact of hypocritical adult authority figures (and in fact I did write my own versions of it when I was young(er) though mostly in the form of poetry and read it from stages and podiums and park benches and coffeehouse risers and etc. as exuberantly angry as the cast last night but with a little more street cred and a lot more confrontational language).
But the audience leapt to their feet when the musical ended for a long standing ovation with woops and shouts and whistles and obvious deep appreciation in seeing themselves (the young ones who made up the majority of the audience) reflected in the story and characters and music, demanding four curtain calls and making the young cast very happy, most of whom, according to the program were making their Broadway debut.
It wasn’t the original cast, for the most part (though one of the three main characters was with the original cast), but they all had beautiful voices and did a great job with the music and with the physicality of the play.
The lighting was creative, the choreography was original and probably the freshest element in the musical, at least for me. I left feeling pretty satisfied and not regretting having paid the money at the last minute at the TICKETS booth for half price and ending up with one of the best seats in the house.
But as much as I enjoyed the talented performers (a few who had only one or two moments to shine really knocked me out with their talent) and the effort they made to bring the story and music to life, and the success they generally had doing that, I couldn’t help thinking about all the great theater, musical and otherwise, I’ve seen in my life that no one has ever heard of, or very few, that never made it to off-off-Broadway, let alone on, that may never be performed again anywhere anytime, and yet soared so much higher in what it was attempting and what it actually achieved than this worthy attempt to move Broadway musicals a couple of inches closer to the times we live in by resurrecting a century old melodramatic play (at least as it came across through this interpretation) and coupling it with relatively safe “rock” music and more contemporary—and very “emo”—lyrics.
(Come to think of it, Sondheim has created musicals more “revolutionary” than SPRING AWAKENING by far. So where are his successors?)