I’m all for anything that gets a young crowd away from their computer/television screens and in to see live theater. And Tuesday’s opening night crowd for “Spring Awakening” at Proctors in Schenectady was young, vocal and oh so enthusiastic.
“Spring Awakening” is a perfect production to entice youngsters to the theater. It’s all about teenagers and sex. As the main character Melchior (played by Jake Epstein) declares, “It’s as though the entire world were mesmerized by penis and vagina.”
The musical is set in a small German town in the 1890s, but it touches on sexual themes that are relevant today – including masturbation and homosexuality – as well as a bundle of such contemporary societal problems as child abuse, teen pregnancy, abortion and suicide.
There’s also some nudity and language that would definitely get you thrown out of school, such as the big second-act anthem “Totally Fucked.” Let’s just say that this probably isn’t a show that you want to watch with your mom.
Melchior is smart, handsome and rebellious. The object of his affection is Wendla (Christy Altomare), his pretty, but naive classmate. And his best friend Moritz (Taylor Trensch) is the class outcast, tortured and confused.
As directed by Michael Mayer, the production is part theater and part rock concert. The solid, versatile, eight-piece band is onstage behind the action and always visible. Meanwhile, when it comes time for them to sing, the actors frequently reach into their jackets to pull out a wireless microphone or dash to the side of the stage to grab a microphone stand, addressing the audience directly. And the singing is uniformly strong, impassioned and involving.
The music by Steven Slater and popster Duncan Sheik is first rate, and yes, occasionally it actually does rock, unlike so many rock musicals. Trensch as Moritz gets the best of the batch with “The Bitch of Living” early on and “Don’t Do Sadness” in act two, and he makes the most of both of them. The choreography by Bill T. Jones injects plenty of energy into the songs.
And Christine Jones‘ stage set – a brick wall adorned with a hodge-podge of artworks, photographs, a blackboard, an oversized butterfly wing, etc. – is a wonder all by itself. Adding to the intimacy of the production there are sets of bleachers onstage facing each other, and they’re occupied by audience members as well as the actors awaiting their entrances.
For all of the positive aspects of the production, I wish that “Spring Awakening” had something more to say. I wish it dug deeper. I didn’t expect it to rival Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but I hoped it might have reached beyond DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
Michael Eck’s review in The Times Union
Roger Green’s review in Information Without the Bun
John Rodat’s review in Metroland
Matthew G. Moross’ review in The Daily Gazette concludes, “An astonishing coming-of-age experience, ‘Spring Awakening’ is a show that demands to be seen, not just for its originality of vision, but for its daring to push the envelope. And while the subject matter may leave you wary, and the language shock your ears, none of that matters. For as delicate and ‘purple’ as the subject matter may be, the end message is one of hope, with one generation presenting the next with an unfinished canvas with the potential to create a world that was only imagined.”