October 22nd, 2008 5:33 pm | by JOHN MINERVINI News | Posted In: Multnomah County

Spring Awakening Reviewed

SA020-15awakening_crop God, that was intense! Although audiences may initially balk at Spring Awakening's excessive earnestness, they'll quickly get over their grown-up, world-weary cynicism as they relive their sexually-charged adolescences. That's perhaps the show's greatest virtue: it sings the hormone thrills and gut-wrenching trials of the teen years as though they had never been sung before. The resulting experience is as fresh, as exhilarating and as painful as the first day of middle school.
"Yeah, you're fucked all right – and all for spite / You can kiss your sorry ass goodbye / Totally fucked – will they mess you up? / Well you know they're gonna try..." - Act II, "Totally Fucked"

Set in an anonymous 19th-century German village, Spring Awakening interweaves the narratives of eleven svelte teens who struggle with draconian parents, wet dreams, Latin homework, domestic violence, masturbation, sexual abuse, teen suicide, homosexuality, Goethe's Faust , abortion and the missionary position. At the center of the story are star-cross'd lovers Melchior (Kyle Riabko) and Wendla (Christy Altomare), whose flirtation takes on a strangely masochistic hue. Other standouts include Moritz (Blake Bashoff), whose fabulous hair seems to be a thematic extension of his penchant for nocturnal emission, and Hanschen (Andy Mientus), whose aggressive—if somewhat creepy—sexuality keeps the audience in stitches.

The music, a mixture of emo rock and ballads, is great. I don't even like emo, but it fits perfectly here. These kids are mad: their parents won't tell them about sex, but they're gonna find out somehow. Plus, school is a total pain in the butt, right? And as the musical grows more serious in Act II, so does its score. By far the best vocals are offered by principals Riabko and Bashoff, both of whom were in the original Broadway cast. Riabko's voice is smoky-smooth like Jason Mraz, but it's hard to beat Bashoff's Act II solo, “Don't Do Sadness.” He combines the eerie crooning of Smashing Pumpkin's Billy Corgan with a emo sensibility, and it's great to hear.

One quibble: the setting (sleepy German village) and the score (gloves-off emo) seem so drastically unrelated that they aren't even in discourse with one another. Yes, this is a musical adaptation of an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, but the two halves need more than a common provenance to draw them together. The dialogue is Teutonic in its reserve, but the lyrics are blatantly American. If there's a purpose to this crosscutting, I haven't figured it out yet.
    "Bobby Maler, he's the best / Looks so nasty in those khakis..." - Act I, "The Bitch of Living"

The lighting design (Kevin Adams) is also worth noting. Constellations of bare bulbs in different colors—blue, orange, red—hang over the stage at varying heights and depths like stars in the night sky. It's hyper-real and very effective, considering the musical's adolescent subject matter. Bare neon strips mounted on the walls complement the bulbs; they seem like raw testosterone up there, glowing in red and blue.

Ultimately, the only really disappointing things about this show were certain audience members. I'm speaking, of course, of the brigade of large Lake Oswego women who drove all the way across town to snicker at words like “fuck,” “ass,” and “shit;” to mutter disapprovingly at an onstage sex scene; and to loudly announce their displeasure at a man-on-man kiss. In the future, ladies, restrict your bourgeois theater-going pretensions to Cats and Les Mis —nothing to cluck at, there. And yes, I'm talking to you: Aisle 4, Row N, seats 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Directed by Michael Mayer, Fred Meyer Broadway Across America's production of Spring Awakening plays at the Keller Auditorium at 7:30 pm, Oct. 21-26. Click here to get tickets.
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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