Past Reviews

Broadway Reviews

Spring Awakening
(Revisited 2008)

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - September 11, 2008

Spring Awakening A New Musical. Book & lyrics by Steven Sater. Music by Duncan Sheik. Based on the play by Frank Wedekind. Directed by Michael Mayer. Choreography Bill T. Jones. Music director Kimberly Grigsby. Scenic design by Christine Jones. Costume design by Susan Hilferty. Lighting design by Kevin Adams. Sound design by Brian Ronan. Orchestrations by Duncan Sheik. Cast: Gerard Canonico, Tony Carlin, Amanda CastaƱos, Blake Daniel, Matt Doyle, Andrew Durand, Christine Estabrook, Glenn Fleshler, Emma Hunton, Morgan Karr, Emily Kinney, Caitlin Kinnunen, Alice Lee, Frances Mercanti-Anthony, Eryn Murman, Hunter Parrish, Zach Reiner-Harris, Alexandra Socha, Jesse Swenson, Jenna Ushkowitz, Gabriel Violett.
Theatre: Eugene O'Neill Theatre, 230 West 49th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
Audience: May be inappropriate for 13 and under. (Spring Awakening is recommended for mature audiences - for strong language, brief nudity, and adult themes.) Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Schedule: Monday, Wednesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm and 7 pm
Ticket prices: Orchestra and Mezzanine (Rows A-D) $122, Mezzanine (Rows E-H) $87, Mezzanine (Rows J-L) $67, On-Stage Seats $40 - On-stage seating offers a side/rear-view of the performance, with the action of the show taking place all around you. You must arrive to the theatre early enough to be seated before the performance begins. Otherwise, you may be asked to stand in the back of the auditorium until the intermission. All large coats, bags, and other personal items must be placed in designated lockers prior to the start of the performance in order to keep the on-stage seating area and pathways clear. For artistic reasons, you will not receive the complimentary Playbill until the END of the performance.
Tickets: Telecharge

Hunter Parrish
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Want to know why Spring Awakening is groundbreaking? It's not because it has wobbly rock songs hanging onto its plot by atom-thick strands, or even because it smashes together issues about kids, parents, and sex. Despite the popular line that's long swirled around this eight-time Tony winner, musicals were braving these waters well before authors Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik came on the scene.

No, the show's truly unique contribution can be seen at the Eugene O'Neill now in a way it couldn't when it opened there in late 2006: Though not a single new performer is more distinctive than his or her predecessor in terms of personality, almost every one is better suited to actually telling the story. Traditionally, replacement casts have faltered without the same kind of intense directorial attention the originators received, but for the new kids here, that's been anything but a curse.

Director Michael Mayer maintained a vague grip on the show when it first opened Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company just over two years ago, keeping his cast just barely reined in as their teenage characters railed against demanding parents, corrupt teachers, and blossoming erotic impulses in late-1890s Germany. When that production hit Broadway a few months later, Mayer had all but given up, and allowed the cast to devolve into malfunctioning animatronics with grimacing line readings and more mugging than Central Park in the 1980s.

The last time I saw the full original cast, in May 2007, even the two or three actors who had previously resisted overacting had succumbed, completing the show's transformation from countercultural message concert into a repulsive grotesquerie of the absolute worst Broadway had to offer. The only sensible conclusion was that, at some point between the Atlantic and the Eugene O'Neill, Mayer had told everyone to play bigger: They did and they never, ever stopped, even when they started orbiting Neptune.

That message, however, hasn't filtered down to the new folks. Well, not thoroughly: There are still a few cases when someone utters one of Sater's lines or lyrics or executes one of Bill T. Jones's percussive dance moves with two or three times the enthusiasm that is strictly necessary. But such occurrences are thankfully now the exception rather than the rule.

Nowhere is this renewed focus more evident than with Moritz, the overworked and undersexed student John Gallagher, Jr. envisioned as a criminal psychotic A.W.O.L. from the shock therapy ward. Gerard Canonico plays him like - gasp - a sane but confused young man who hasn't yet learned the crucial art of balance, but who nonetheless seems to be fueled by human sensitivity. More important, his frequent complaints about his increasingly overburdened life ring as desperate cries for help rather than merely affected adenoidal whining.

"The Bitch of Living"
Photo by Cass Bird.

Alexandra Socha possesses none of Lea Michele's calculated sophistication as Wendla, who learns the hard way that her mother's claim that babies come only from love isn't entirely accurate; she finds a deeper innocence in this deluded girl, which is the only way Wendla's trail of tears can truly be justified. As the two gay boys, who unfortunately still have to endure an insufferably comic second-act awakening of their own, Matt Doyle and Blake Daniel likewise find more honest paths for their inexperienced characters to explore.

Not everyone is an obvious improvement. Hunter Parrish (from Showtime's Weeds) is less active and more detached as the handsome, streetwise troublemaker Melchior than was Jonathan Groff, which doesn't allow him a smooth transition from the boy with all the answers to the man with none of them. Andrew Durand, like Skylar Astin before him, is too cured a ham as the piano player with a crush on his teacher. But overall, the differences are extreme enough to finally allow you to view Spring Awakening with a minimum of artifice.

That's not entirely a benefit. Lacking the distractions, it's even easier to see this show as what it's always been: a dumbed-down, tarted-up, and self-consciously preachy adaptation of Frank Wedekind's prurient but profound 1891 play, with a small handful of hopelessly general songs with Sheik's attractively insinuating hard-pop melodies that are insufficient for any musical as expansive as this one pretends it is. Blandly besotted might not be that much more desirable a state than outlandishly offensive, but for Spring Awakening it's a gigantic step in the right direction.

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