Spring Awakening, music by Duncan Sheik, book and lyrics by Steven Sater, The F.U.D.G,E Theatre Company, Black Box Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 11/4/11-11/12/11, http://www.fudgetheatre.com/. Adult Themes and Language.
Reviewed by Gillian Daniels
(Watertown, MA) Spring Awakening is not a show I would recommend; instead, it is a show I would require audiences to see. Despite the early-20th century backdrop of Germany, the pop-rock musical is a thinly veiled indictment of contemporary repression of teenage sexuality. Members of the cast occasionally wear anachronistic clothing: goggles, fingerless gloves, and sneakers. If not for the pervasive nature of the Internet in our modern times and the sometimes salacious information it provides, the play would be perfectly suited for a contemporary adaptation in Middle America.
Instead, we follow our main character, Melchior Gabor, passionately played by Jared Walsh, as he deals with the puberty, lust, and lack of information plaguing his age group. The adults in his community, varied roles all played fantastically by Linda Goetz and Jim Fitzpatrick, refuse to give their children and charges any information that would make their transitions into adulthood easier.
Sex is a forbidden topic in their world. Denying it exists, especially for the innocent Wendla Bergman (Alaina Fragoso) or the perpetually frustrated Moritz Stiefel (Ben Sharton), also means denying the many parental, academic, and personal abuses that take place beneath the friendly veneer of their society.
Throughout the play, ropes hanging on either side of the stage are cleverly utilized as props during musical numbers. Characters are entangled in knots, nooses, and complicated webs of their community’s making as they sing about their varied frustrations and the difficulty of being denied information their adult guardians are either unwilling or unable to communicate. It’s fascinating to watch.
I would say these musical numbers are powerful, especially “The Bitch of Living” and “I Believe” in Act I, but the musical aspect of the production is mainly used to disarm. The anachronistic rock songs, composed by Duncan Sheik—who is also known for his 1996 pop hit, “Barely Breathing”—serve as a pressure release for the dark subject matter of the play. The often melodramatic and adult elements of Spring Awakening are carefully balanced with somewhat lighter fare as well as the occasional double entendre. Much more wrenching are the moments of silence and revelation that sweep the stage when adult characters realize their growing children can’t be kept innocent forever.
The contemporary nature the music and some of the costuming suggests is that this is a play with a message that goes beyond its setting, and it’s not just about the repression of one group of people in one period of time. In an America where abstinence-only education is actively taught in many schools, Spring Awakening should be a favorite among musical-going audiences. It’s frustrating to realize the show on Broadway has been closed since 2009.
This production, expertly directed, choreographed, and designed by Joe DeMita, will only be performed by the F.U.D.G.E. Theater Company at The Arsenal Center for the Arts until November 12th. I suggest getting tickets immediately.