Ahmanson Theatre / Los Angeles
On through 7 December 2008
When I saw the Broadway production of “Spring Awakening” while it was in previews a couple years ago, I was both wowed and underwhelmed. As a long-standing fan of Duncan Sheik as a songwriter, the soundtrack to this show is one that I could listen to on a daily basis. The songs are very much in his style of pop-rock, occasionally infused with a haunting ballad or seven, all of which carry the kinds of melodies that will be trapped in your head for days. In the good way, though.
Adapted from the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, our story concerns a group of young men and women who are going through those awkward teen years when they really just want nothing more than to touch each other, and maybe even (as gauche as it may be), have a bit of a poke. Forbidden love, thoughts of suicide, parental abuse…it’s the oldest story in the world. And to add to the blah-ness of the story, the final act ties up the story so quickly that you’d think there was a time limit at the theatre. It’s the very material and some of the structure of Steven Sater’s book that hold me back from being a die-hard fan.
But regardless of whether or not I think it’s a swell tale to take on the road, it has reached that point in the zeitgeist when the masses love it, they want to package it and make t-shirts and take it to Idaho. And in that case, the music is the reason for audiences to come out of their respective corners and enjoy it. It allows Michael Mayer’s production to illuminate the space with simple but imaginative and peppy staging, and an eager young cast to throw their weight into these roles, even if they are essentially re-creating stock characters at this stage of the game. There’s so much good stuff going on at the surface level that perhaps the simplicity of the story can be forgiven. But only because it’s Duncan Sheik and it just looks so damn cool.