I would fool around with "Spring Awakening," but I wouldn't ask it to go steady. The touring production of the Tony-winner that opened last night at the Colonial was the most entertaining musical I've seen in a while, but not the heartbreaking work of staggering genius that the New York reviews indicate. (Not since "Rent"...) Maybe you have to be 16 or so to fully empathize with the play's frustrated lovers and the tragedy that follows when they act on their desires. It all seemed a little ABC After School Special to me: True love can't wait, and a repressive society will punish it for doing what comes naturally. It's actually a pretty old story. The unsurprising takeaway: Ignorance is not bliss. But the performances were good, the singing mostly so, the production interesting, the sexy parts sexy.
Germany's Frank Wedekind wrote the original play in 1891, but it was controversial because of its candid depiction of adolescent sexuality and not produced in an unexpurgated version until 75 years later. The Zeitgeist Stage Company is doing the play at the BCA through May 9 with actual teenagers in the roles, and I'd like to see that. What it might lose in polish, it could gain in edge; the reviews there have been good too.
Melchior is the bright, together kid who has renounced God. Moritz is his goofy, wound-up friend who's having a hard time in school - and facing up to his repressive father. Wendla is the ripe beauty whose mother fails to properly inform her of the facts of human biology. Their small troupe of friends include two gay kids, one randy and unashamed, the other clueless. SPOILER ALERT! By play's end, everyone gets some except poor Moritz, who pulls a different kind of trigger. But there's also S/M, incest, shame, pregnancy, reform school, a stabbing, a botched abortion and two tragic deaths.
And singing! And dancing! Musicals are so weird.
Book and lyrics are by Steven Sater, music by Duncan "Barely Breathing" Sheik, and I liked the score best when it was least traditional and Broadway-ish. Moritz's numbers are mostly boot-stomping rockers, and I wished the onstage band had hit them as hard as actor Blake Bashoff (right), who also played the role on Broadway. With his Kid'n'Play haircut and explosive energy, he's the heart of the show. Kyle Riabko and Christy Altomare are appealing as Melchior and Wendla - Altomare's self-caressing solo opening number (top pic) is a grabber - but Bashoff steals the show whenever he's in the spotlight. Props also to onetime "Canadian Idol" contestant Steffi D, who has one of the better voices in the cast and impresses in her one big scene as the daring but sad Ilse.
Like the score, director Michael Mayer's production is an interesting mix of old and new, and the new works better - the onstage seating for cast and a few lucky audience members, the anachronistic lyrics, the randomly dippy haircuts for the guys. Lighting and stage design (Kevin Adams, Christine Jones) are terrific. My one small carp would be that the excellent Henry Stram and Angela Reed are handed a difficult task playing all the adult roles without any help from props or costume, except for the pointers when they're playing teachers. The ditsy teachers already introduce themselves quite well, but it usually took a couple of lines at the beginning of other scenes to figure out whose parents they were playing now.
Like "Rent," "Spring Awakening" has attracted a following of young repeat viewers, and it's not hard to see why, with an attractive cast playing out hormonal drama and romantic tragedy. By all means go, but I doubt you'll find it life-changing if, like the cast, you're over 18.