“Spring Awakening” Breaks Broadway’s Slumber
December 20th, 2006
As the company of “Spring Awakening” walks calmly onto the curtain-less stage at the beginning of the show, a pattern can be seen among them—they are young! With the exception of Christine Estabrook and Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella, the two adult actors who portray every adult character in the play, everyone in the cast is in their late teens or early twenties. This is not the only oddity in the musical, which opened at the Eugene O’Neil theater on December 10. The show’s risque subject matter and lyrics, as well as its somewhat anachronistic score, make for a refreshing and satisfying experience. Based on Frank Wedekind’s provocative play of the same title, “Spring Awakening” takes place in provincial Germany in the 1890s. The story centers around teenager Melchior Gabor (Jonathan Groff) and his dissatisfaction with the shame-based social system and the repressive adult community. Melchior and his adolescent friends are also forced to deal with their hormones and urges in this suppressive, late 19th century society. The show addresses touchy subjects such as masturbation, teenage pregnancy, homosexuality and suicide, and includes some brief nudity. However, Remy Zaken, who makes her Broadway debut as Thea, a schoolgirl, said, “The only people who do have a problem with [the nudity] are the people who haven’t seen it and they’ve only heard that there’s a sex scene, but everything is very tastefully done, even the nudity.” The subject matter deals directly with teenagers, and Zaken encourages students to see the musical.
The imperfect and victimized characters are easily relatable, especially the knowledge-thirsty Melchior and his best friend, the unambitious Moritz Steifel (John Gallagher Jr.). Groff rarely leaves the stage and portrays his character convincingly, connecting with the audience immediately and guiding them through the rest of the show. Gallagher’s interpretation of Moritz as a pathetically awkward individual also works on many levels. Moritz’s horrified reaction to a dream of legs in blue stockings climbing over a desk gives the audience an intimate look at his fears, and Gallagher’s facial expressions can simultaneously draw both laughter and pity.
The score by Grammy Award winner Duncan Sheik, comprised of high-adrenaline rock songs and depressing ballads, fit the story and characters well despite the time period in which the story is set. Playwright Steven Sater’s libretto also speaks clearly about its subject matter. “The music is a big part of why teenage audiences would be interested in this show,” said Zaken. The bluntness of lyrics in songs such as “The Dark I Know So Well,” sung by a school girl who is molested by her father, allows for character development during the musical numbers and interludes between them—a factor often missing in musicals that deal with lighter themes.
Tickets for Spring Awakening, as for all Broadway plays and musicals, are quite expensive at over $100, but there are several alternatives available for students. In addition to student-rush tickets, on-stage seating, which allows audience members to watch the show from the left or right side of the stage and mingle with cast members when they are off-stage, is also available for $31.25 per ticket.
“Spring Awakening” has already developed a steady fan base, and has often been compared to “Rent” due to its risqué subject matter, unconventional score and lack of subtlety when it comes to language and sexual references. Stuyvesant senior Michelle Balsam, who previewed the show in November, said, “The story is old but it’s not outdated, and the music makes it relevant. Plus, the tunes are just really catchy and you walk out of the theatre singing—which is always a good sign.”