SPRING AWAKENING All the onanism, sado-masochism, abortion, and self-slaughter of Frank Wedekind's original, though with the rape turned into a romance.
It smells like teen fusion at the Colonial Theatre, where the Tony-winning musical Spring Awakening mingles 19th- with 21st-century adolescent ache and outrage (through May 24). As if at a mixer, the show even seats the scratchy-school-uniformed denizens of Frank Wedekind's then-shocking 1891 play amid audience members in straight-backed chairs on either side of the stage. From there as elsewhere, the characters can rise from their rigid postures and uncomfortable seats, whip a wireless mike from bodice or breast pocket, and commence to wail singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik's now plangent, now furious alt-rock score, the brilliantly conceived outlet for the teens' otherwise repressed or forbidden feelings.
And you know what? Spring Awakening, unlike its predecessor, the over-hyped Rent, is the genuine item: a successful if jagged amalgam of theater and pop music built on Wedekind's sketchy tale of provincial German teens torn between the urgent whispers of their changing bodies and an insensitive adult society (represented by two actors in multiple roles) bent on keeping them biologically in the dark and obedient to the bullying, prudish moral order. Sheik's pulsing, Tony-winning songs do not so much move the story as unlock pent-up emotions either sweet and sultry or, in thrashing numbers like "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally Fucked," mad as hell and not going to take it any more. The show is further enhanced by Tony-winning director Michael Mayer's daringly raw and energetic staging and Bill T. Jones's Tony-winning choreography, less Broadway razzle-dazzle than heightened movement based on dreamy self-caress and bursts of agitated, geometric frenzy.
Are you getting the picture that this unlikely Broadway musical won a lot of Tonys? No shit. Opening on the Great White Way in 2006 following an Atlantic Theater Company production that was preceded by years of workshops, the vibrant collision of surging teen sexuality, contemporary and quaint, from playwright/lyricist Steven Sater and composer Sheik cleaned up at the 2007 Antoinette Perry Awards. One can only hope that means its shepherding director's previous Broadway outing, the innocuous Thoroughly Modern Millie, is a thing of the past.
No small credit should go to Wedekind, whose pioneering play is even harsher than the musical, which retains the onanism, sado-masochism, abortion, and self-slaughter of the original but turns what in the play is a rape into a romance — albeit one consummated in as erotic a scene, set atop a swaying platform standing in for a hayloft, as any ever enacted on Broadway. And that's to say nothing of the protracted masturbation — to a come-hither illustration of Othello's Desdemona, no less — set smack at the center of a production number.
Thank God the creators of Spring Awakening were savvy enough not to update the story of intellectually intense heartthrob Melchior (whose well-intended free-thinking triggers a tragic chain of events), his addled, anxious bumbler of a chum, Moritz, and the sheltered Wendla, (who wants to feel something, even if it's the sting of a switch, and who becomes pregnant because her mother's notion of sex education involves the stork). Instead, Sater and Sheik contrast the damped-down 19th-century adolescents' lockstep public behavior with the private thoughts and feelings expressed in the stomping, raging, yearning interior monologues that form the score.