Lansing State Journal
Edgy 'Spring' musical is courageous and inspired
February 26, 2009
All you lovers of Broadway musicals: Watch out, you've never seen anything like this.
"Spring Awakening," the national touring company onstage at Michigan State's Wharton Center until Sunday, breaks all the musical stereotypes by dealing with issues such as teen suicide, masturbation, abortion, sex, child abuse, and homosexuality - and does so with sensitivity and beauty.
This Tony award-winning show takes place in Germany in 1891. The costumes are dour for the girls and dorky for boys. The set consists of 40-foot high brick walls - signifying the repressive world the characters live in and the interior of a German school for boys.
Everyone is on stage - the entire cast, portions of the audience and the band. Another name for this show could be "Raging Hormones." The boys (age 14 or so) are discovering their sexuality, and the girls are trying to figure out it how all works. The parents won't breathe a word of the truth to them.
The sensitive subject matter is handled with honesty and humor, but not like the goofy sexual movies that have been popular lately. The music is lyrical and interesting and not nearly as rock-oriented as advertised - and it's fun to watch the musicians on stage interacting with the entire production. The voices are beautiful, and the ensemble singing, especially at the end, is spectacular.
Last year, some local theatergoers were worried about potty- mouthed puppets and puppets having sex in "Avenue Q." For this show, there is quite an explicit sex scene on stage (with real people!) and the F-word is used very liberally in one song. Yes, it's a bit shocking, but the production is so well done (with stunning use of lighting), and the direction (Michael Mayer) is so brilliant, that it all makes sense to the story.
Everything about "Spring Awakening" is fresh and creative. Bill T. Jones's choreography is jaw- dropping. The jerky movements and high-intensity style wonderfully telegraph the anxieties of young men and women. The stars (Blake Bashoff, Kyle Riabko, Christy Altomare and more) are all excellent, but it's the ensemble and the production that really counts here.
"Spring Awakening" is not for everyone, but it is courageous and inspired. Give it a try.
Bold story, Sheik songs drive daring musical
by Paul Wozniak
Wednesday, February 25,2009
Most contemporary Broadway musicals play to their niche audience, but that audience may finally have a chance to grow with “Spring Awakening,” a musical that bridges the great divide between indie rock and Broadway. There are still enough melodramatic moments and big numbers to keep Broadway fans in their seats, but the music has changed dramatically, and it is good.
Based on the still-controversial late 19th-century German play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, the show features music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater, which blend harmoniously with the themes of forbidden fruit, sexual education and oppressive parenting. “Spring Awakening” feels perfectly tailored for the teens who loved “Twilight” in a decade that has simultaneously stretched progressive policies while breeding a new generation of strict conservatism. Despite the ongoing battle to keep sex sinful and taboo for conversation, the adolescents of this play sing out, dreaming of a future where parents understand and educate young ones about their budding hormones instead of punishing them for feeling.
Christy Altomare stars as Wendla, a naïve girl raised on stories of storks. She falls in love with Melchior (Kyle Riabko), a lad with superior intellect and a willingness to question authority. Melchior is also influential to Moritz (Blake Bashoff), a burnout whose wet dreams sponge his concentration away from school. The sexual tension between Wendla and Melchior is plucked and bowed like a well-tuned string, driving the show’s pulse as much as the first act’s rock songs. Altomare, Riabko and Bashoff all have great solo voices that blend with the ensemble just as well.
The rest of the cast members also do well developing their characters, even when they play more than one.
Bill T. Jones’ choreography is creative and sensual, cracking sparks as the friction heats up between the young pupils and their adult guardians. The lighting design by Kevin Adams goes far beyond spotlights, and Christine Jones’ set keeps the cast onstage at all times, while creating movable layers for key emotional scenes.
Only the final song, a full ensemble piece that works to lighten the mood after a dark but hopeful scene, reminds the audience that the musical formula is still in place. Everything else is funny and stirring and moves quickly, even for the more than two-hour running time. While Broadway may seem an unusual place for relevant, classic dramas to meet indie-rock songsters, hopefully “Spring Awakening” is the start of a trend and not the height of the genre."