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Spring Awakening Theatre Review - The Tony Award Winning Best Musical Hits the Ahmanson

By Keisha7

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Wendla’s sister is going to have another baby. And yet, while this is great news, Wendla (Christy Altomare) simply can no longer believe that “the stork is bringing it”, as her Mother (Angela Reed) always insisted.  Something is stirring within her, and Wendla is certain, somehow, that it has to do with babies. After a vigorous round of pleading, her Mother relents and agrees to tell her everything, then lies.

Elsewhere, in this 1890s provincial German town, in a semi-prominent school for boys, runtly, ne’er-do-well student Moritz (Blake Bashoff) has fallen asleep and fallen behind in Latin class, again. When his teacher tries to pounce, his old friend, Melchoir (Kyle Riabko) leaps to his defense, standing up for the weak as usual. He knows how hard Moritz works to keep up and stay in the prestigious school, despite the unspoken conspiracy by school officials to “weed him out.”

Moritz too is driven to distraction by hormones for which he has no voice or explanation. Fortunately, Melchoir has sought out answer in books, knows exactly “how the world works”, and shares the details with his friend in a lengthy essay. However, neither sleepless nights of studying, nor unfiltered knowledge of human sexuality, complete with illustrations, can save Mortiz from the adult plot brewing against him.

Oh yes, and hormone-infested Wendla happens across the path of the worldly, honorable - yet nevertheless similarly hormones infested Melchoir. And nature takes its course…

The musical has two faces. The songs are the emotion, the id, and the energy of the show. Every secret or feeling teens can’t say to their parents is expressed in song, raw and loud. Spring Awakening cranks up the angst with beautiful imagery laden stream of thought lyrics, while keeping the adolescent anger surprisingly minimal. Juxtaposed against the musical numbers is the bland, dutiful life of obedient, sheltered teens who are trying to become men and women. The teens are taught to lead uneventful, shrink-wrapped lives where propriety is valued above all sparks of individuality. I am on the fence as to whether the stark contrast is a strength or a deficiency of the show because while it accurately depicts every adolescent plight and psyche, for me, it fought the cohesion of the piece as a whole.

Make no mistake, this is a rock concert. Characters don a variety of microphones for each musical number, hand mics hidden in jacket pockets, mic stands complete with trailing power cord. In most instances, the cast is singing right to you with songs that would easily find a home on any pop or rock radio station. The musical numbers are the opportunity for these teen characters to act out and express themselves. Its the classic structure of rock equals rebellion.

Here’s my problem: while the singing and dancing and light show was great, the musical numbers only served to advance the plot 50% of the time. Every song had some relevance, but not every song services the drama of the story. The vocal arrangements and performances were extremely well done, but the acting performances in between were at best a lacklust, cursory exploration of these characters. Only two actors played the “Adults” roles. But while the symbolism of all adults “being the same” is not lost on me, at times it was really confusing, particularly since “Adult Woman” and “Adult Man” were roles that spanned across as many as five different characters, with only one significant costume change.

                                                          Perhaps I am letting my expectations cloud my judgment. I was expecting to see a show about teen rebellion. What I got was a show about teen victimization at the hands of the omnipotent adult world wielding the weapons of personal ambition and ignorance. (And I have a thing about victimization stories, however historically actual they might be.) The show does do audiences the great servce of reminding us that, not so long ago, parents did the wrong thing in the name of protecting their children. It has not been that long we we as a society began to speak openly about child abuse, teen suicide and when and how to breach the topic of physical intimacy with our kids. Moreover, it reminds us that children are inately good and innocent and do require protection, tempered with the reality that they will eventually grow into adults and that they depend on their parents to give them the proper tools to make that leap. 

I really wanted to like this show. But frankly they lost me at (breaking) the fourth wall. But most everyone else seemed to be having a really great time.

Spring Awakening opens Octber 29, 2008 and runs through December 7, 2008 at:

Ahmanson Theatre
at the Music Center
downtown Los Angeles
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

(213) 628-2772


Photos by Craig Schwartz

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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