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‘Spring Awakening’ Rocks!

2010 March 12

For all you rock and rollers who can’t imagine going to the theater and seeing a play, much less a musical, the Broadway touring company of “Spring Awakening” now at the Fox Theatre may change your mind.

Winner of eight Tony Awards in 2007, “Spring Awakening” is a coming-of-age story that looks into the lives of teenagers in Germany in 1891. It’s a time when girls and boys go to school separately, sex is a forbidden topic, and corporal punishment in school and at home is the norm. Although the story takes place more than 100 years ago, the teenagers’ rebellion against society and struggle for independence and sexual expression could match that of any generation since.

The musical version, by Steven Sater, is based on the original play written in Germany in 1891 by Frank Wedekind. His play was scheduled to run in New York City in 1917, but it was deemed pornographic by  the New York City Commissioner of Licenses and closed after one performance.

Not exactly obscene by today’s standards, the play presents some explicit sex scenes. Hanschen (Andy Mientus) sits on stage with his legs spread far apart and masturbates himself underneath his nightgown, Melchior (Jake Epstein) and Wendla (Christy Altomare) simulate making love on stage, and Hanschen seduces his male friend Ernst (Ben Fankhauser).

As much as the show focuses on the sexuality of adolescents, it also highlights their pains from living with and being taught by elders who disrespect and abuse them. Martha’s father sexually molests her and her mother ignores it, a schoolmaster whips Melchior with a long stick, and Herr Stiefel (John Wajda) repeatedly slaps his son Moritz (Taylor Trensch) in the face.

What makes this play work is that all the characters and their stories come across as authentic. Their life situations are the same ones we hear and read about today. Their failures and quest for self expression remind us to question the status quo and decide for ourselves what is right for us.

Yes, there are F-bombs and sex, but none of it is gratuitous.

The music, by Duncan Sheik, mixes styles similar to ballads by Andrew Lloyd Weber, indie and art-rock, and punk from the late 1970s. The costumes (by Susan Hilferty) are styles from 100 years ago, but the mixture of hairstyles — traditional cuts, Mohawks, spikes and high-rise towers (think of the ’70s band Split Enz) — remind us that these youngsters could hail from any generation, especially our own. Bill T. Jones makes the dancing seem as natural as the scenes, the singing and the story.

“Spring Awakening” runs at the Fox Theatre through March 14.

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