Thursday, October 09, 2008

Spring Awakening

During a trip to New York City in August, people whose taste I trusted said that the two-year-old musical, "Spring Awakening," was the most interesting piece of theatre currently on Broadway.

Since the touring version was starting its national run in San Francisco in September, I decided to see it at home, especially because the top tickets in New York were $116 as compared to $75 on a weeknight here.

This may have been the wrong choice, however, because something seems to have been lost in the translation from Broadway production to the touring show.

Something was definitely lost in the translation from the bitter, sardonic and poetic 1891 Austrian play by Frank Wedekind to the teen-pop-rock musical written by Steven Sater with music by Duncan Sheik. The adaptors have managed to both sensationalize certain parts of the play while softening others, such as the ending in the graveyard (above). This is the playwright, after all, whose series of plays ending up being the basis for the Louise Brooks "Pandora's Box" silent film and Alban Berg's "Lulu" opera. There's not a sentimental bone in Wedekind's body, while Broadway musicals tend towards the mushy and uplifting.

The score alternates between punk-rockish solos for the boys, girl group choruses for the women, and sentimental power ballads here and there.

They are staged as modern pop-rock performances, complete with choreography by modern dance legend Bill T. Jones, and I'll bet they were sensational when new in New York, but for the mixture of earnest play and musical fantasia to work, the story and characters need to be believable.

Instead, every bit of dialogue is overplayed and underlined which gets obnoxious fast. Plus, everyone is amplified to the max, even when they are just reciting dialogue, so what should be a great Dennis Potter moment when going from realist play to a musical interior monologue just doesn't have the snap it should.

The theater was fairly empty on Tuesday evening so if you're thinking of going during the last week of its run, check out the half-price ticket booth in Union Square. Though it's not really a success, the musical is still a fascinating attempt.


cubbie said...

your words make me not want to go, but the pictures are stunning and eerie somehow

sfmike said...

Dear cubbie: Cool. I meant the account to be ambivalent, so you make me feel successful.

Timothy said...

We saw it on Sunday night, and the Curran was packed. It is closing this week, after all, so it doesn't surprise me that the Tuesday night show was sparsely attended.

Agree with your comments on the sentamentalization/Broadwayosity of the production, and much of the music was forgettable. But the few numbers that worked were spectacular, including the choreography you duly praised.

jolene said...

"Instead, every bit of dialogue is overplayed and underlined which gets obnoxious fast."

I actually overlooked this a bit b/c I was in one of the onstage seats, and thought that they were just playing to the back of the house and I was just sitting too close. But since you were near the back of the house...

As you know from my review, I'm a bit ambivalent as well. The show is very good in certain things, but fall short in other ways. Your pictures are beautiful; the set is gorgeous, especially when the blue lights come down.

From my experience, the people who've read the play often see this musical with disappointing results. The SF Chronicle couldn't get over the ending of this musical, which he felt undercut the ending of the play.