Spring Awakening: the MusicalBroadway in Chicago
American pop-culture is obsessed with teen sex. Look at the inane pop stars and the shows they star in: Gossip Girl, 90210, and Lindsey Lohan are a few that bounce to mind. It is sad to see a classic play that tackles the issues of teenagers being confronted by their awakening sexuality be turned into a rock-musical about teen sex. The Broadway tour that arrived last night in Chicago is all angst and no substance.
When Frank Wedekind wrote the play in 1891 all of the subject matter was not just controversial, but taboo: teen sex, abortion, homosexuality, and suicide headline the play along with parental roles, society's unwillingness to acknowledge sex as normal, and fear that masquerades as morals. The play lives on in infamy because of the scandals it caused upon its release. The play was heavily censored by governments, European and American, until well into the 1950's.
The musical seeks to capitalize on the shock value but not the story. They put sex, partial nudity, and offensive lyrics on stage as a way to assault the audience. Touting themselves as radical they forget the great debt they owe to theatrical tradition: Hair, Angels in America, [sic] Rent, High School Musical, and the original Spring Awakening.
Particularly offensive is a scene in the second act where there is a scene that centers around a shared homosexual kiss. In the musical it is a horrible comic moment with the two boys both awkwardly fumbling and aggressively taking what should be a tender moment. In the play it is this scene that shows us the only two characters who come away happy; which is especially poignant given society's understanding and acceptance of homosexuality in the 1890's. To reduce it to a comic scene degrades not only the integrity of the play, but is offensive as well.
In the end, Spring Awakening: the Musical defaults to what ever other musical does - it gives us a happy ending. That's not to say that the play doesn't offer hope, but it does so through the incredible complex character of the Masked Man. Not understanding the character, he is simply written out of the play and replaced by the ghost of the heroine who comes to comfort our young hero.
It is sad to have to criticize the production so heavily when there are many things that succeeded. All of the performance given by the actors were strong and featured an entire ensemble of incredibly talented vocalists. The score of the piece was quite good. The trick of characters pulling hand held microphones out of their pockets as they went into "monologue" mode was quite effective. But when there is no story to hang it on, it doesn't matter how talented your cast is; there simply isn't much to take home from the theatre.