Spring Awakening – Unfocused but Moving Fun

Can something be moving and fun?  Sure, why not.

Full disclosure: I was lucky enough not to pay for my ticket to see Spring Awakening at the Community Theater – though I would be happy to pay for the show.  One of the few new shows on stage these days (it didn’t come from a movie, TV show, another stage show, nor is it a revival – though it is based on a book).

If you watched last season’s 90210 (I only watched the first few episodes, swear), you might be familiar with a few bars of  a Spring Awakening tune.  Having seen the show, however, I am fairly confident you won’t find it produced by too many public high schools.  This show is not suitable for parents.  (Also, there be partial spoilers ahead.)Spring Awakening is a coming of age story set in mid-19th century Germany told in gentle, well choreographed rock tones.  Our main characters are confused teens – a girl whose mother won’t explain where babies come from, a boy who can right a pamphlet on sex but has yet to put that knowledge into practice.  It doesn’t take a lit major to guess where those two end up.  Add to that main story a few others: the girl who is beat (and more?) by her father, the boy who can’t get the love of his father (Dead Poets Society Alert!) – and the runaway who loves him, the two, young gay boys, a back-alley doctor.

All together – Spring Awakening manages to get an entire season’s worth of soap opera plot into about two hours and therein is its only failure.  Some themes are partially explored, some mentioned, none really gets an in-depth treatment.  Sex, pregnancy, abortion, death, suicide, homosexuality, sexual abuse, physical abuse – if only there could’ve been an intervention for a major drug or alcohol addiction.  The most striking example of this, to me, was the brief treatment of two homosexual schoolmates who are allowed to make out with each other but not much else happens between them.  What do we learn from them?  That students can be gay. Awareness is good – but the storyline – if you can call it that, seems pat.

If Spring Awakening’s story is a bit rushed, however, it takes nothing away from the infectious music and compelling performances of the cast.  These kids believe their story and believe in it as well.  It’s not their fault part of the narrative structure is missing.  It’s seldom that casting seems so appropriate in a show, but this company gets it right – the characters are age-appropriate, diverse, and can sing and dance with conviction and heart.  (If the male lead looks a bit to old for his female counterpart, it’s forgiveable because the chemistry is there, though rushed.)

Awakening’s staging is vibrant and interactive – audience members sit on stage on bleachers on either side and are surrounded by the cast and an extra chorus.  The music and some staging may be anachronistic to the setting of the play, but you won’t really care when you’re rocking out to fast number or when your heart is breaking during slower ones.

I said it wasn’t suitable for parents – why?  Because the first act ends and the second act begins with some pretty graphic (for the stage) sex which, personally, I wouldn’t have wanted to watch while sitting next to my parents.  That’s not at all to say younger people shouldn’t see the show.  Much of the show’s press push empahsizes it as an opportunity for discussion within families about the show’s various themes.  True.  But I would worry as well that the lack of full exploration of those themes might leave some kids with the wrong impression and some parents with nothing to say to help.   Better to enjoy Spring Awakening as a musical accomplishment than a moral lesson.

You have about week left to catch the show.  Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

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