Review: Spring Awakening
Which has nothing to do with narcolepsy or warm weather
Last night I had the pleasure of attending the touring production of Spring Awakening with some musical theatre chums of mine (gays and the beards that love them). Despite the damp and chilly night, a fresh sexually-charged spring breeze seems to have blown into town. I’m not sure why the theatre in Kansas City is suddenly teeming with provocation—The Kansas City Rep, Unicorn Theatre and University of Missouri-Kansas City have been busy expanding our horizons the past two seasons with such offerings as Lieutenant of Inishmore, Clay and Killer Joe— but Spring Awakening could not have arrived at a better time. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t new territory, nudity on stage and exploring sexuality is standard fare. And in this time of rampant snatch flashing for the paparazzi, celebrity sex tapes, porn on demand and “wardrobe malfunctions”, today’s audience is more jaded than ever. But somehow Spring Awakening succeeds in capturing the frenzied and overwhelming moments between childhood and adulthood, shocking me just a little bit in the process.
It gives me a sense of comfort to know that not much has changed when it comes to teen angst. Set in rural Germany in the 1890’s, the musical follows a group of kids discovering sex, rebelling against authority and falling in love… basically the usual teenage drama. Frank Wedekind’s play (of the same title) was completed in 1891 and premiered in Berlin in 1906 under the direction of legendary director Max Reinhardt. Frequently banned for it’s content, the play tackled masturbation, abortion, child abuse, suicide and rape. With music by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, the musical version of Spring Awakening contrasts the raw energy of rock music against the repressive world of late 19th Century Germany. While explicit, this musical never became lewd, managing somehow to retain a charming innocence through its use of humor and sincerity.
A weak second act and boring ending—does the puritan concept of (female) sinner’s redemption through death really have to play out here? —was saved by stunning lighting design and wonderful music. Spring Awakening won a total of eight Tony Awards in 2007, including Best Musical, Book, Score, Director, Choreography and Lighting Design. As a lover of racy theatre done well, I recommend seeing Spring Awakening while it’s on tour. Give it a chance and like the old dude sitting next to me, you’ll be rocking out in your seat.
Spring Awakening runs in Kansas City October 13th-18th at the Music Hall, 13th and Central.