Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
THEATRE REVIEW: “Spring Awakening”
The Balboa Theatre (brought to us by Broadway San Diego)
AIRDATE: AUGUST 29, 2008
(Music intro… “The Bitch of Living”)
“Spring Awakening” is about ‘The Bitch of Living…’ as seen through the eyes of hyper-hormonal teens. The pop-rock musical, which has become an international phenomenon, won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical of 2007. San Diego has snagged the West coast premiere, and the launch of the national touring production.
Based on an infamous and widely banned 1891 play by iconoclastic German dramatist Frank Wedekind , the piece is set in a tight-laced, authoritarian society. It may be the late 19th century, but that doesn’t stop these uniformed school-kids from whipping hand- mics out of their pockets and belting rock songs composed by alt-singer/songwriter Duncan Sheik, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater .
These young folks are struggling with adolescence, authority and their emerging sexuality. There’s a bittersweet central love story, offset by some pretty brutal moments, including songs, scenes or intimations of masturbation, child abuse, botched abortion and teen suicide. Not quite for the faint of heart or the language-sensitive. Wedekind called it ‘a tragedy of childhood,’ but there’s an infectious exuberance to the musical, which unlike the play, ends on a note of hope.
The energy of this dazzling production would have to be measured on a Richter scale. And the enthusiastic youth in the audience contribute to the seismic activity. The staging is ingenious and inventive. The lighting is spectacular. The direction and choreography are unique and stylized, endlessly fascinating. The score is often dark and moody, to match the themes, but also ebullient, reflecting the extremes that accompany coming of age. You may not walk out singing the songs, but they will certainly have an effect on you, whether you’re 16 or 60. Everyone seems to connect, relate, relive or recall their own adolescent angst. This is the “Hair” or “Rent” of its generation.
The high-voltage ensemble delivers electrifying performances. The two male leads come directly from the Broadway company . Kyle Riabko is adorable as the smart, sexually precocious and soul-searching Melchior, who dares to defy the conventions of his repressive society. Wild-eyed, rubber-faced Blake Bashoff , a recurring character on ABC’s “Lost,” plays the ill-fated and tragically tormented Moritz, who can’t endure the anguish of adolescence – or live up to his father’s expectations. Christy Altomare and Steffi D are wonderful as the girls who never get a break. The voices are strong, the onstage band is terrific and unpredictable, the rich, melancholy tones of a cello augmenting the electric instruments. The musical is groundbreaking in many ways. It’ll soon be touring all over the world. It’s the talk of Broadway. And it’s only here for a few days. Do you really want to miss it? See it and become a believer.
(Music Out: “I Believe”)
Broadway San Diego brings the first touring production of “Spring Awakening” to the Balboa Theatre, through August 31.
©2008 PAT LAUNER