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.


I Might As Well Have Been Speaking Greek

Just about every year in mid-May, our family goes to the Greek festival at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Albany. This year we went on Saturday evening and in spite of the sometimes inclement weather, we had a pretty decent time. There’s lots of food and even more music and dancing. there was a point when I had no idea where my wife and daughter were, but I just hung out, knowing they had to cross a particular intersection eventually.

However, there was one incident that hangs in my mind. Lydia and I went into the playground area of the church, along with several other children and their parents. I noticed that one child of about eight whacked her head on a wooden crossbeam of the slide/climbing contraption. Immediately I went to see if she was okay. She was not – it looked as though she somehow didn’t even see the beam based on the force of the collision. She ran to her mother, wailing, and I followed; I figured if my child suddenly began crying I’D like to know why. Immediately her mother asked, “What happened – what happened – what happened?” I tried to explain to her what had taken place, but she apparently was suffering from hysterical deafness, for she couldn’t understand a single word I was saying. Her demeanor, though, had that “What did YOU do to my child?” feel. Fortunately, her friend was able to translate for me. Talking about shooting the messenger.
Finally got through the Tony Awards; it takes a while when you watch int in 20-minute increments. Someone I know was complaining how unfamiliar he was with Broadway shows; I thought that was odd, since the nominees featured everything from the 39 Steps to Little Mermaid and Xanadu to Young Frankenstein. He specifically mentioned August: Osage County, Boeing-Boeing, Passing Strange and South Pacific. South Pacific? Really? It was only a major Rogers and Hammerstein collaboration, based on the James Michener book, made into a long-running musical as well as a movie. Something I didn’t know: the song You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught was, in 1949, quite controversial, considered to be contrary to American values because of the miscegenation it seemed to accept.
Here’s one of Fred Hembeck’s favorite singers performing it:



I watch the Oscars because, B.L. (Before Lydia), I would have seen at least 70% of the award nominees in the major categories (movie, director, 2 actor, 2 actress, and 2 screenplay categories.) I root for my favorite shows on the Emmys. I like to watch the Grammys to hear the artists I’ve read about in magazines but never actually heard, usually in the minor categories.

(“I like to watch.” I sound like Chauncey Gardiner (Peter Sellers) in Being There, a 1979 movie that is one of my favorites.)

But I watch the Tony Awards because it is generally all I know of the shows on Broadway. I mean, there is usually ONE show I’ve heard of (this year’s winning musical Spamalot, The Producers from a couple of seasons ago), but that’s it, except for the revivals.

I like to discover that a number of actors better known from other venues are on the boards. In the “featured actor (play)” category, Alan Alda (West Wing), Gordon Clapp (N.Y.P.D. Blue), and winner in his Broadway debut Liev Schrieber (the remake of the movie The Manchurian Candidate) all were in a revival of Glengarry Glen Ross. The “actress (play)” category was filled with women best known for the film (Laura Linney, Mary-Louise Parker, Kathleen Turner) and television (Phylicia Rashad), though most (or all) have been on Broadway before. Rashad won last year for A Raisin in the Sun; Cherry Jones (winner a decade ago for The Heiress) won this year for Doubt.

And I don’t watch ANY of these shows to find out who won. In fact, I’ve seen only the first hour of the show Sunday night, but I already know the results. I like to see HOW they won, how the people react, so I’ll watch the tape at my leisure.

I STOPPED watching the Tonys on Sunday because it was Lydia’s bedtime, and the quietness of the house seems to maximize the possibility that she’ll actually go to sleep and stay that way. By the time she was in bed, I flicked through the channels and ended up watching the Mets beat the Giants. (Incidentally, the musical The Light in the Piazza apparently has nothing to do with Mets catcher Mike Piazza.)

My buddy Fred Hembeck has been extolling the wonderfulness of one Mark Evanier for some time, and Mark has a lot to say about the Tonys that I found interesting on June 5 and 6, and even on June 4, when he predicted most of the winners correctly. He also writes about medical marijuana (6/6) and Deep Throat (6/3), topics covered recently on this page, and how the rich get richer, and the myth of the “death tax” (6/6), which I would have written about had I had something cogent to say.

While I’m plugging other pages, let me mention the upcoming reintroduction of the NEW Comic Book Galaxy by a long-time FantaCo customer (and a big booster of this page) Alan David Doane, starting Monday, June 13. I’ll be honest: I don’t know WHAT to expect, but ADD has a lot of heart, so if you’re into the comic medium, it should be good. (And now the pressure is on, Alan.)

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