Theater Review: Spring Awakening

Lust. Domestic violence. Sex. Abortion. Questioning authority. Suicide. Rape. All of these are elements of the book Spring Awakening, written by German writer Frank Wedekind in the early ’90s. The 1890s. This may explain why the book was banned in Germany and in English-speaking countries for decades.

Most, though not all, of those same elements, plus a large dollop of indie-rock written by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, appear in the 2007 Tony winner for Best Musical, Spring Awakening, playing at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady February 16-21.

The wife’s Valentine’s Day present for us was a pair of tickets to the opening night this past Tuesday. Really, all we knew of the show was what we saw on the Tonys, and that was almost three years ago.

So we got a babysitter and hoofed it over a few blocks to Central Avenue in Albany to catch the bus to Schenectady. We had gotten 5.3″ of snow that day, the most the city had received in 2010. For the record, CDTA got us there (and back) quite adequately, thank you.

Before the show begins, I am awed by the set. There is no curtain so it’s just there. You can see snippets of it in the Tony performance, but it hardly does it justice. Bleachers are both stage left (two rows) and stage right (three rows) and people are already sitting out there when the principles come onto the stage to sit with them. So the excellent, eclectic band is likewise on the stage from the beginning, everything from keyboards and drums to a cello? But it works.

As for the technical aspects of the performance, I was also wowed by the choreography. Not just dance per se, but how the players moved about the stage, passing off or getting microphones. The lighting was also first rate.

The fist three songs advanced the story quite well, high energy and great entertainment value. Yet the core action at the end of the first act, which involved a couple of the aforementioned elements felt, for want of a better word, stagy.

Somehow, the second act redeemed it for us, with the best song in show, the tune that got the biggest audience reaction, and the one that my dear wife says we all feel now and then, Totally F***ed (I’m serious here: NSFW or for sensitive ears, big time.)

If you see it, and you should, then it will help to know that two people play all the adult roles; in the production we saw, both actors appeared in various episodes of the Law & Order franchise, which is no surprise. Spring Awakening is ultimately “a cross-generational phenomenon that continues to transcend age and cultural barriers,” as the promos suggest, and I am thinking that a greater knowledge of the plot will help the novice theater goer appreciate it more.

Something I didn’t know until recently: Lea Michele, who plays the annoying but talented Rachel on the TV show Glee, was the lead in the Broadway production of Spring Awakening.

And now the musical will become a movie. Not sure just how that’ll play. I can’t really imagine it, but then I couldn’t fathom M*A*S*H being a weekly television series, either.

A review of the Wednesday’s performance suggested a small-than-expected crowd. We felt the same way about Tuesday’s performance, but I had attributed the smallish crowd to the weather. I theorize that, despite its awards, it’s pretty much an unknown commodity, relatively speaking; I mean, it’s not South Pacific.

ROG

March Ramblin’

I find myself thinking a lot about Natasha Richardson, which is strange because, unprompted by IMBD, I couldn’t tell you one thing I’d seen her in; Nell and the remake of The Parent Trap, as it turns out. Whereas I know about lots of films in which I saw her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, or her husband, Liam Neeson.

Besides the strange way she died, there’s that weird argument that always seems to happen when a famous person passes away. In the comments to this nice article in Salon, one person essentially hijacks the issue with “Aren’t there more important things in the world to worry about?” Lots of back-and-forth that you can read yourselves. Or not.

My feeling is that if someone is uninterested in a “celebrity death”, then he/she oughtn’t to pay attention. But it’s one thing to say, “I don’t care.” It’s quite another to say, “And you shouldn’t either.” People should be allowed to grieve even those they’ve never met, yet because of their artistry or personality or for whatever reason, has moved them in some way. Their loss is real.

And invariably, the death of a celebrity shines a light on the cause of said death, if it’s unusual. (“Wear a helmet when skiing!” “No, it’s too restricting to see and hear properly.”)

I felt the same way when Jennifer Hudson lost three family members to murder. There were those who offered, “People are murdered all the time in Chicago. Why should I care about THIS?” I say: by all means, please don’t. But offer not your analysis about “the celebrity culture”, as though others might not be moved by the American Idol/Dreamgirls performer’s situation. Besides, even in the Windy City, a triple homicide is not an everyday occurrence.
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Looks as though I’ll still have Dora the Explorer to deal with:
The daughter would normally “age out” of Dora in a year or two. But now that the daughter has dubbed the tween explorer as “beautiful”, I guess I’ll be stuck with her for a little while longer. Why they just didn’t come up with an older cousin so that the original Dora could entertain the younger crowd, I just don’t know.
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I found this background for a seminar interesting.
In June 2008, the Canadian government introduced Bill C-61, new copyright legislation that closely followed the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The public response to the bill was both immediate and angry – tens of thousands of Canadians wrote to the Minister and their local Members of Parliament, leading to town hall meetings, negative press coverage, and the growing realization that copyright was fast becoming a mainstream political and policy issue.

The “Canadian copy-fight”, which includes many new advocacy groups and the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group that has over 90,000 members, has attracted considerable attention from the mainstream media, with many wondering how copyright had emerged as a contentious policy issue.

So the Canadians are having as much trouble with expanding the copyright law as some Americans did a decade ago, including (need I say) me.
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There’s an online petition to save Proctor’s Theater in Troy, NY from demolition. Apparently, the current plan is to “save the facade” and tack on behind it some ugly badly-built auditorium. The rest of the beautiful building is to end up in the already overloaded landfill in Albany County.

Frankly, I’m not big on online petitions. Frankly, I doubt their efficacy, especially when the signatories include people who are not constituents of the officials taking an action. But the real audience is not so much the folks who run Troy City Hall as it is Governor Paterson. “The city of Troy is applying for a grant from New York State to demolish the theater. The petition to Governor Paterson is asking him to grant money for the renovation of the theater, not its destruction.

“The theater was built in 1914 and remains the last existing grand movie palace in Troy. While the building is in disrepair, it does not need to be torn down. In 1979 Proctor’s was placed on National Register of Historic Places – but this distinction may not save it from the wrecking ball.”

Anyway, I add my name here because, in some minuscule way, I helped with the renovation of Proctor’s in Schenectady in the late 1970s by selling ads and performing in the arcade for an April 1978 fundraiser. It’s also the building I worked in for nearly 11 months. Here’s a picture of Proctor’s Schenectady – Troy’s is similar though now in disrepair – but, as the petitioner noted, “with vision and leadership it can look like this again!”

QUESTION: Bring It Back


The local newsweekly/arts publication Metroland had a civer story last week called Bring It Back, things “vaudeville to roller disco and trolleys to pterodactyls” that the writers want to see return. I’ll tell you my three, and you tell me yours. You are not limited to three, BTW.

1. Single-screen movie theaters. Generally, they were not only much larger screens, but the place was more ornate as well. Love to see films at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, not that far from Albany, NY. Even if the movie’s not good, the experience is still worthwhile.

2. The Ed Sullivan Show. Yes, I know Ed’s dead. I’m talking about something as eclectic as the Sullivan program, where you wade through the guy spinning plates to see the singer you really want to see, and realize that you sorta LIKED the guy spinning plates, either genuinely or as kitsch.

3. Public civility. Yes, I’m old-fashioned, but I really HATE it when people on the bus/on the street curse in front of my four-year old daughter. Yeah, yeah, “she’ll learn it eventually”, and “everybody curses” (not true, BTW) and “it’s just words” (true in a George Carlinesque way, but still), blah, blah, blah. It still bugs me. My aversion in that situation should be differentiated from language in music, books, movies, blogs, etc., where one generally can choose to be, or not.
Sidebar: I’ve said this before, but the overuse of cursing minimizes the power of the words. If/when I say “F*** you!” to you, you’ll know that I’m royally p.o.ed.
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From About.com, this Madonna quote: “I always thought I should be treated like a star.” Shouldn’t we all feel that way, really? Madonna turns 5-0 today.

ROG

Roger Answers Your Questions, Gordon

Gordon, who knows I’ve met Rod Serling, asks these questions:

1) What’s your favorite Twilight Zone episode?

Certainly, Time Enough At Last with Burgess Meredith:

The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street with Claude Akins and Jack Weston, and A Game of Pool with Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters are up there. It’s a Good Life with Billy Mumy and The Dummy with Cliff Robertson and Frank Sutton scared me as a kid.
But perhaps, as a librarian, I relate most to The Obsolete Man with Burgess Meredith and Fritz Weaver, about librarians and religion and politics, which can be seen, in three parts, below:


Yes, it’s heavy-handed and preachy, but that’s OK by me.

2) What have you been asked to do professionally that has you going, “I can’t believe they pay me to do this?”

When I worked at the Schenectady Arts Council on a CETA grant in 1978 into January 1979, I was hired as a bookkeeper and to run a biweekly craft show, but there really wasn’t that much to do to fill 35 or 40 hours a week, though I was on the telephone selling ads for a benefit to revitalize Proctor’s Theatre for a couple weeks. So I found other things to take on. The dancer, Darlene, was teaching elementary school kids dance in the elementary schools, including disco, and she needed a partner, so I was drafted. The secretary, Susan, decided that she and I would go sing to the developmentally disabled from time to time. I loved that job, loved dealing with artists and musicians, and we stopped only because the money ran out.

3) What’s the deal with “Chocolate Rain”? I don’t get it.

You mean this thing that got 16 million hits and won some YouTube award?


Damned if I know. I have little idea WHY something becomes a hit on the Internet: LOLcats or lonelygirl15 – don’t really get it.
That said, let me spitball here. It may be the juxtaposition of the unexpected. This nerdy-looking black guy with a deep voice that one might not be anticipating, with lyrics that seem to be saying SOMETHING, but we’re not sure what; better play it again. Or maybe it’s that he’s put his listeners in a trance with the keyboards.
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The footer to an e-mail I received yesterday (no, I don’t know the parties involved)-
Mr. Diefenbaker:…I mentioned the cost of living a moment ago, and while I speak the cost of living has gone up.
Mr. St. Laurent: You should stop speaking.

ROG

MUSICAL REVIEW: The Drowsy Chaperone

When I was away visiting my mother in Charlotte this month, my parents-in-law came up to Albany over the weekend to help paint Lydia’s (still unoccupied) bedroom. I came back that Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Then Wednesday, they took Lydia to their house in Oneonta, and Carol and I were able to go to the rapidly-expanding Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady to see The Drowsy Chaperone.

One of the reasons I watch the Tonys every year is to see what’s on Broadway, because I’d otherwise have little idea. Unless it’s a retread from anotheer medium (The Producers, Mamma Mia), it doesn’t get that much coverage. Here’s the
broadcast segment for TDS, a little scratchy, I’m afraid:

It was entertaining enough for us to want to see it when it came to town.

I agree with most aspects of this local review, except that I would have picked Show Off, the song in the above segment, as the highlight. In fact, unlike some of the songs that wouldn’t cut it on their own if it wasn’t part of the farcical faux musical, it would stand up on its own in any production.

Still, as the review suggests, the success of the production is largely on the shoulders of the Man in Chair, the narrator of the piece. The role was originated by Bob Martin, and he was replaced by Jonathan Crombie, who played the role in Schenectady. The Broadway role, interrupted by a now-resolved strike, is now being played by Bob Saget – yeah, the guy from Full House and 1 Vs. 100; I’m having difficulty imagining him in the role. Though not entirely comparable, I think of the Man in Chair as pivotal as the Stage Manager in Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town.

Another performer reprising her role from Broadway was Georgia Engel, probably best known as Ted Baxter’s wife on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. She talks about going on the road here:

I really like the truthiness of this commercial that suggests that we’re not likely to be swayed by the testimonials of “real people”:

So, when I saw THIS one, I laughed out loud:

I don’t know why this winner of five Tonys was was not very successful in its London run; a different sensibility, I suppose. All I know is that The Drowsy Chaperone made me laugh out loud many times. The best recommendation for a musical comedy I can think of.
ROG