Monday, September 28, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Spring Awakening


Expressing Teen Angst, Sexual Awakenings in a New Way
By Lauren Yarger
There’s nothing new about teens exploring their sexuality, or thinking that parents are too uptight to understand, but this story gets a whole new telling by Deaf West Theatre in a Broadway revival of Spring Awakening featuring performances in both spoken English and American Sign Language.

Composer Duncan Shiek’s rock score, paired with Steven Sater’s lyrics and book, based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 expressionist play of the same name, changed musical theater when it premiered on Broadway. The music, the action (with its shocking moves and explicit lyrics) and its very young cast (except for the few uptight adult characters) struck a chord with audiences and critics and in 2007 it won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Many hailed it as the Rent or Hair for a new generation.

Personally, I love the music. The score is exciting and is almost a character in itself as it helps to express the emotions felt by those singing the tunes. The story and lyrics, however, have never been a favorite. I just can’t get excited about a bunch of sexual experimentation – some of it sadomasochistic in nature – glorified as something we should embrace or risk being labeled as uptight and out of touch. I’d rather embrace loving and safe relationships…. (and yes, if you are wondering, Hair isn’t a favorite of mine either. Great music – and in the case of the last Broadway revival, great staging – but a message of risky and immoral behavior I can’t embrace there either.)

Some lyrics from the song “The Word of Your Body”:
Oh, you’re gonna be wounded
Oh, you’re gonna be my wound
Oh, you’re gonna bruise too
Oh, I’m gonna be your bruise


Not exactly what I’d pen as a love song.

That said about the themes of this musical, I won’t dwell on them, but let me assure you that deaf end’s production is well worth seeing. The troupe’s last Broadway appearance was with the excellent production of Big River in 2003, which also incorporated sign language with the dialogue and lyrics. Michael Arden expertly directs the action, which has some characters like Wendla (Sandra Mae Frank) Moritz (Daniel N. Durant) and Frau Gabor (Marlee Matlin) portrayed by deaf actors using sign language, while other actors, most of whom also play a musical instrument, provide the speaking and singing voices for those characters.

The staging is such that both actors become the character. Additional supertitles are incorporated into projections (design by Lucy Mackinnon) onto the three-story set designed in shades of grey (how appropriate given the S&M themes….) by Dane Laffrey, enhanced by excellent Lighting Design by Ben Stanton to help keep focus amidst the large cast of 28. The set does double duty, housing the small band which often plays to tunes at a slightly slower pace than expected. I am not sure if this is to accommodate needs signing of the lyrics, but it does disappoint if you are a fan of the score. Also lacking something in comparison to the original soundtrack (which fans have been listening to for years) are the vocals, with the exception of Katie Boeck, who lends a beautiful singing voice for Wendla.

Maitlin (who won an Academy Award for her performance in Children of a Lesser God) gives effective portrayals as the mother of the protagonist, Melchior (Austin P. McKenzie). Providing her voice is a fabulous Camryn Manhein (TV’s “The Practice” and “The Ghost Whisperer”), who stands out with humor as school mistress Knuppledick. Every time she addressed Headmaster Knochenbruch (Russell Harvard), I rolled with laughter. Her comedic chops also made piano teacher Fraulein Grobebustenhalter, about whom Melchior’s friend Georg (Alex Wyse) fantasizes, very amusing.

Melchior’s carefree behavior and rebellion are a catalyst for much of the show’s action (and the character is ably portrayed by McKenzie). He wonders about the origin of shame and believes that it is a product of education. He encourages close friend Moritz to embrace his sensual dreams and introduces Wendla to sex at his “special thinking place” while indulging her need to be punished. Her fate involves an abortion and death.

A friend, driven to achieve success by uncaring parents dies “Left Behind” the scene is very moving and effectively staged.

To take in the excellent performances, however, you need to be prepared for potentially offensive content. The show posts a Mature rating and contains nudity and all kinds of sexual activity. Some of the titles of the songs are so explicit that I can’t list them here. You can go hear them in person, if you wish, through the end of this limited-run engagement which closes Jan. 24, 2016 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th St., NYC.

Performances are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 and 7:30 pm; Check schedule changes for week of  Oct. 27. Tickets are $49 - $139: (877) 250-2929; springawakeningthemusical.com.

Full Cast:
Miles Barbee…. Otto

Katie Boeck…. Voice of Wendla/Guitar/Piano

Alex Boniello…. Voice of Moritz/Guitar

Joshua Castille…. Ernst

Daniel N. Durant…. Moritz

Treshelle Edmond…. Martha

Sandra Mae Frank…. Wendla

Kathryn Gallagher…. Voice of Martha/Guitar

Sean Grandillo…. Voice of Otto/bass

Russell Harvard…. Headmaster Knochenbruch, Herr Stiefel, Father Kaulbach

Amelia Hensley…. Thea

Lauren Luiz…. Melitta, Voice of Thea

Camryn Manheim…. Frau Bergmann, Fraulein Knuppeldick, Fraulein Grobebustenhalter

Marlee Matlin…. Frau Gabor, Frau Bessell, Frau Schmidt

Austin P. McKenzie…. Melchior

Andy Mientus…. Hanschen

Patrick Page…. Herr Sonnenstich, Herr Rilow, Father Kaulbach, Doctor Von Brausepulver, Herr Gabor

Krysta Rodriguez…. Ilse

Daniel David Stewart…. Voice of Ernst/piano

Ali Stroker…. Anna

Alexandra Winter…. Greta/Harp/Harmonium

Alex Wyse…. Georg

Robert Ariza, Lizzy Cuesta , Elizabeth Greene, Van Hughes, Daniel Marmion…. Ensemble


Christians might also like to know:
-- Mature rating
-- Nudity
-- Sexual activity
-- Homosexual activity
-- Language
-- Suicide
-- Derogatory language referring to women
-- Explicit dialogue and lyrics
-- God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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