Sunday, April 3, 2011

theatre review, SPRING AWAKENING, National Tour- New Brunswick, NJ April 2, 2011

The rock musical Spring Awakening is an adaptation of the 1891 German play of the same name by Frank Wedekind.  With an alternative rock score by pop composer Duncan Sheik (he had the hit song "Barely Breathing" in the late 90's) and book and lyrics by Steven Sater, the show ran for 888 performances on Broadway.  A national tour ran for just under two years, ending last Summer, and a non-equity tour* is currently playing across the US, ending this coming May.

Though mainly about a group of teenagers, the show and play are both very adult and the original play was extremely controversial.  Set in late-19th century Germany, the show is about teenagers who are discovering sexuality but due to the nature of the times get none or misguided information from the adults around them.   With rape, suicide, abortion, child abuse and homosexuality all present, you can see why it created a stir in the late 1890's and why the play was originally banned in Germany at that time.  The original play carried the subtitle "a children's tragedy" and I believe the fact that the musical deals directly with these topics in an adult way with a very catchy score is why the musical hit such a positive chord with audiences and ran for just over two years on Broadway and also won the Tony for Best Musical.

Elizabeth Judd
The story follows three main characters, Wendla, a young teenage girl who, when she asks her mother where babies comes from, is told that to have a baby a woman must love her husband with her whole heart.  Not exactly clear information for a budding young girl.   Melchior and Moritz are teenage friends, one very smart and one whom is a little less so as well as being very intense.  They both question life, their strict and over disciplining teachers and the erotic dreams and thoughts they have been having.  The musical shows that teenagers today pretty much feel exactly the same way they did 100 years ago, and the way adults treat them has barely changed for the better.   Throughout the show there is unhappiness and despair but the musical manages to have an uplifting ending.

The main theatrical device the show uses to connect the issues of 1890's Germany to the present is to have the kids use hand held microphones to sing their inner thoughts and hidden desires and when they sing they sing like modern pop stars using modern language while the book of the show uses language from the late 1890's. If you haven't seen a production of this show that might sound very disconnected, but I thought it worked perfectly, and obviously many others did as well as the show won eight Tonys including ones for best musical, direction, book, score and featured actor. The show also won four Drama Desk Awards, and the London production won four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical.  There are also two other ways the show gets it message across.  First, there are around 20 audience members seated on the two sides of the stage and when the members of the cast aren't performing they sit in the empty chairs amongst the audience members.   They are always watching what transpires in the plot and the combination of clothing from current times to the 1890's costumes the characters wear is another way to combine the past with the present and to show how times have barely changed in over 100 years.  The other conceit the show uses is to have all of the adult male and female parts played only by two people - thus showing that even though some of the adult characters in the show are more responsive to the needs of the children, at the core, all adults are basically the same.  Sarah Kleeman who plays the Adult Women and Mark Poppleton who plays the Adult Men were both excellent in their performances.  They gave each character they played new manners and a different diction or speech pattern to set them apart from the others.  I have to say that I think they did better in this then both times I saw it on Broadway.

Jeff Ostermueller
The current non equity tour that played two performances in New Brunswick, New Jersey yesterday is modeled on the original Broadway set, costumes and direction. The three tour leads make their parts their own, while also being somewhat in the same style as the original Broadway leads who have all gone on to greater things.  Lea Michele, the original Wendla, is currently starring on the tv show Glee, Jonathan Groff also appeared on Glee with Lea and just starred in a production of Death Trap in London and John Gallagher, Jr. who won a Tony for playing Moritz, just finished a year run as the lead in the Broadway musical American Idiot.

Coby Getzug
For the non-equity tour, Elizabeth Judd is Wendla, and plays her in such a heartbreaking way that you can't help but feel for her.  Her singing is also top notch.   Jeff Ostermueller was on for Melchior last night, most likely since he is from Metuchen, NJ which is only about 10 minutes from New Brunswick, so this way his friends and family could see him in this lead role.  And even though he isn't the main Melchior on this tour, he was perfect.  He is charming and handsome, singing with a nice clear voice.  Coby Getzug as Moritz perfectly captures the anxiety ridden nature of the part, with a wild hairstyle that is completely in sync with the inner feelings of the character.  He is also shorter than the other boys in the cast, which also sets him apart and plays into the outcast feelings he has.

A few members of the supporting cast had amazing voices.  Courtney Markowitz is Ilse, the girl who had run away because she was being abused, and her solo in act two as well as her contributions to some of the ensemble songs were all perfect.  Jim Hogan and George E. Salazar who play two of Moritz and Melchior's schoolmates sang with such passion, force and clarity during the solo sections in many of the songs - check out the clip of them singing some solos in "Touch Me" below.  The choreography for the tour uses the same from the original production.  Bill T. Jones won a Tony for his work, and the athletic, stylistic moves are like none you've ever seen in a Broadway show.

The sound mix for the tour was great.   The State Theatre is a much large venue then the Eugene O'Neill theatre where this played in New York - but the larger theatre was not a problem as every line of dialogue and every lyric was crisp, clear and loud.  We saw this show twice on Broadway, once with the original cast and the second time with the final Broadway cast.  Both times were memorable nights in the theatre and this non-equity tour is on par with those nights.  If this comes to a town by you, don't miss it.

The final dates for this tour are as follows,
Concord, NH. April 5, 2011
Burlington, VT. April 6, 2011
Bloomsburg, PA. April 8, 2011
York, PA. April 9, 2011
Greenvale, NY. April 10, 2011
University Park, PA. April 12-13, 2011
New London, CT. April 14-15, 2011
Indiana, PA. April 27, 2011
New Bedford, MA. April 29, 2011
New Haven, CT. April 30, 2011
Orono, ME. May 1, 2011
Chicago, IL. May 3-8, 2011
Worcester, MA. May 10, 2011
Kingston, ON. May 11, 2011
Kitchener, ON. May 12, 2011
Ottawa, ON. May 13-15, 2011

*non equity tours are ones that feature actors who are not members of Actors Equity.  These tours usually happen after an equity tour of the show has already played in major cities across the US and will sometimes use the same sets and costumes from the equity tour.  These non equity tours sometimes have smaller casts than the original and usually play in smaller cities and unlike equity tours who usually play at least a full week at each city, only play for a single night or two in each city.  Non-equity tour casts are usually younger as well, which for a show like Spring Awakening actually works in it's favor

2011 Tour peforms "Touch Me" -

2011 Tour performs "The Bitch of Living"

Original Broadway Cast - Tony Performance:

Original Broadway Cast- "The Bich of Living" music video

Original Broadway Cast performs "Touch Me" on The View

"Blue Wind" from the Press Reel:

Amazon link for the Original Broadway cast recording - Spring Awakening (2006 Original Broadway Cast)

Amazon link for the libretto for the musical - Spring Awakening

Amazon link for the script of the original play - Spring's Awakening

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