Sunday, December 24, 2006

New York December 2006, Day Six: "Spring Awakening"

If yesterday's "Gutenberg: The Musical" was a mocking wink at the musical form, today's show, "Spring Awakening" was an attempt to reinvent and reinvigorate the form without resorting to ironic posturing. More than an attempt, it succeeded in this goal on many levels.

The show is based on an 1891 play of the same name by German playwright Frank Wedekind, about the sexual awakening of a group of teenagers in a repressive German town of the 19th century. Songs were added by composers Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik (who had a good-sized pop hit with the song "Barely Breathing" in the 90s), but not in that musical way of characters suddenly breaking into song. The songs are there, but they are more like internal monologues that have managed to seep out. Though the play maintains the sense of the period, the songs have a much more modern sensibility. This works because the core issues the kids deal with are universal, allowing the pull of old and new to create tension that helps to energize the drama.

"Spring Awakening" is easily the best show I've seen on this trip. The lighting is beautifully done, the staging and sets are simple, but imaginative and effective, while the choreography by Bill T. Jones takes Broadway dancing to a whole new place. A warning: the show has some pretty explicit sexual simulations, but nothing you can't handle (as long as "explicit sexual simulations" hasn't already scared you off).

Also saw "Volver" today. Also highly recommended.

Tomorrow: "25 Questions for Jewish Mother" (one of the few things playing Christmas Day)

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