a kate west review
directed by Michael Mayer
music by Duncan Sheik
book & lyrics by Steven Sater
based on the book by Frank Wedekind
at the Ahmanson Theatre
Center Theatre Group
135 North Grand Ave, Los Angeles 90012
running October 29 - December 7, 2008
The hip multi-Tony-award winning (including Best Musical) "Spring Awakening" comes to Los Angeles at last, straight from Broadway. Likened to be as freshly liberating as Jonathan Larson's rock 'n roll version of "La Boheme" ("Rent") over a decade earlier, the show presents the tragedy of teen angst as universal truth, in any era. Based on the controversial 1800's German play by Frank Wedekind, the story encompasses all that is painful about growing up restricted and inhibited by misguided social morals.
Like the original, "Spring Awakening" the musical is set in 1800's Europe, where boys and girls know very little of each other and their need to express themselves leads them down some dark paths. Accompanied by a fantastic musical score by Duncan Sheik (lyrics by Steven Sater), generational German oppression gives way to pounding rock, eliciting wild cheers from audience members. The seriousness of the dialogue contrasts wonderfully with the free-spirited and raucous musical score, when the actors burst into song, filled with desperate emotional intensity. Abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, rape, suicide and lots and lots of plain old sex and lust are some of the striking issues this piece explores. So prepare yourself for some heavy heartaches (complete with adult language) and leave the young kids at home.
Christy Altomare is the fresh-faced Wendla, who wants to know where babies come from. Her Mother refuses to tell her, feeling that it is not a proper topic for a young lady. Blake Bashoff (most recently on television's "Lost") is the tortured Moritz, who keeps having sex dreams and is humiliated by them. Melchior (Kyle Riabko) is his confidante and classmate, who attempts to help him understand what's happening, while pursuing Wendla. Steffi D is slightly off vocally as Ilse, the runaway, and Martha (Sarah Hunt) confesses dark family secrets in "The Dark I Know Well". The arrogant Hanschen (Andy Mientus) and the innocent Ernst (Ben Moss) explore feelings and Otto (Anthony Lee Medina) lusts after older women. Angela Reed portrays all the adult women and Henry Stram all the adult men and everyone heartily stomps and belts their hearts out.
The music definitely makes the show. Among other thought-provoking gems, the women sing the sweetly lyrical "Mama Who Bore Me" as a plaintive lament over their ignorance of how life works. The school boys sing "The Bitch of Living" (also a popular You Tube video from the 2007 Tony Awards) on the unfairness of adults and school and life. A couple's first sexual experience happens with the beautiful "I Believe" and the ensemble sings "The Song of Purple Summer" to finish the show on a powerful note. Each song is another cry of help from youth stemming directly from the perplexity of censorship. Choreographer Bill T. Jones has the cast leaping and gyrating to the dramatic score, in sync with Michael Mayer's intriguing direction. The cast members often sing out to the audience in lone spotlights and some lucky audience members get to sit directly on stage and witness the excitement close up. A spare set conveys several locations, with a few chairs and a slowly swaying hay loft. Scenic Designer Christine Jones creates a towering stage wall, with eclectic pieces haphazardly strewn about. All this effort in production puts all the focus on the fierceness of feeling.
The overall mood of the piece is bleak indeed, but the strong passion and desire in the actors voices fills us with light. And the majority of the company is strong indeed. Afterward, you might want to sit down with your teenagers and set them straight on a few things. Even in this modern era of openness, they still may have a lot to learn, since, as depicted in the show, it doesn't matter when your adolescence takes place. It's all in the title. And a MUST see.
Get the Soundtrack Here:
Spring Awakening (2006 Original Broadway Cast)