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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Spring Awakening: That's It?

Posted by Alison Hallett on Wed, Oct 22, 2008 at 5:37 PM

Note: This is less a formal review than a sustained expression of grumpiness.

Due to the demands of deadline day, I missed the first 15 minutes or so of last night's Broadway Across America touring production of Spring Awakening. In all fairness, then, it's only the last seven-eighths of the show that I can describe as bland, convoluted, and undeserving of half the praise it's garnered. (If anyone wants to weigh in on the first eighth, be my guest.)

Set in 19th century Germany, Spring Awakening chronicles the sexual comings-of-age of a group of provincial teenagers who've been raised without the benefit of What's Happening to Me? In various states of sexual confusion, and with no adults to explain the ins and outs, it's only a matter of time until their general ignorance about s-e-x comes to a sticky, unprotected, baby-making head.

Melchior (Kyle Riabko) is one of the few kids who understands the sex/baby connection, but that doesn't stop him from knocking up his girlfriend. Meanwhile, his good friend Moritz (Blake Bashoff) is an already poor student driven to increasing distraction by a state of perma-tumescence. The show is overstuffed with teenagers coping with hot-button issues, making it both difficult to follow and utterly unworkable as a character-driven narrative. There is incest, masturbation, malicious masturbation, child abuse, kids who have to hurt themselves to "feel," back alley abortions... It's fuckin' Degrassi Jr. High, only the music is worse.

The Duncan Sheik-composed score is derivative and unmemorable, full of mall-emo posturing, American Idol-esque pop numbers, and mournful piano lines ripped straight from Joni Mitchell's "Blue" (absolutely no slight to Joni intended), or maybe the MASH theme song. (The closing number is a great example of how generic and soppy most of the music was, listen to it here.) A few numbers stood out, namely those featuring Blake Bashoff, and a big ensemble number called "Totally Fucked" was a highlight, bringing a welcome dose of energy to this angst-plagued stage, but overall tedium was the order of the night.

I know I'm supposed to think Spring Awakening was a thrilling, powerfully erotic depiction of the charged and dangerous years when balls drop, hair starts to grow "down there," and the primary colors of childhood darken to the nuanced palette of adulthood. (At least, that's what the New York Times said I was supposed to think.) But come on: No one who's seen a movie, read a magazine, or watched an after-school special in the last twenty years will twitch so much as an eyebrow here. Billing this show as "edgy" and "erotic" only reinforces the divide between Broadway and the rest of the culture: One instance of boob-biting does not an erotic spectacular make... and "teenagers think about sex a lot" is hardly a revelation. And as a this-is-why-we-need-sex-ed cautionary tale? It's just trite.

I'm definitely in the critical minority on this one, but I just don't get the hype (or the Tonys) here. Anyone else?

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