Boston’s “Spring Awakening” Keeps All Its Promises

spring-awakening-011Spring can be such a fickle season in New England.  The glorious warmth and sunshine of one day, pushed out by bone chilling rain the next.  There is no such inconsistency with the national tour of the musical “Spring Awakening” as it opens its first Boston run at The Colonial Theatre.  It is thrilling, brave, and completely unforgettable.

A Tony Award winner in 2007, this is the first national tour of a show that continues to redefine what a musical can be.  Its amazing rock music score, combined with the youth and passion of its cast, deliver a jolt of relevance and immediacy that hasn’t been seen since “Rent.”  All in a show that’s set in a German village in the late 19th century!

spring-awakening-007Wait a minute.  How can that work?

You know, in some ways I’m still not sure.  It does though … spectacularly so.

The source material for “Spring Awakening” comes for a play of the same name written by Frank Wedekind in 1891.  Banned or heavily censored for it’s sexually charged subject matter, involving teenagers no less, the play still became a touchstone for writers of all stripes.  Wedekind railed against the idea that young people had to be protected from the realities and consequences of sexuality, arguing that misinformation and repression were the real vices.

spring-awakening-001So now we jump ahead to our “enlightened” era, and it’s stunning how little has changed.  Enter songwriter Duncan Sheik, writer Steven Sater and Director Michael Mayer and teen angst is set to a rock and roll beat for the ages.  “Spring Awakening” blooms again.

From cast, to set, to costumes, to lighting there isn’t a moment of “Spring Awakening” that doesn’t pull you in.  The characters are students dressed in hybrid period costumes.  One minute they’re writing Latin verses on slate tablets … the next they’re pulling out wireless microphones, and belting out power ballads.  Two more mature actors play all the adult roles, switching from often fumbling parents, to nefarious schoolmasters.

spring-awakening-006Let’s talk about the cast for a bit.  First and foremost they are every bit the equals of the Broadway originals … and that is the highest praise I can give.  Kyle Riabko plays Melchior, the intelligent, compassionate, and progressive student leader who tries to clue in his frustrated schoolmates about what’s really going on with their bodies, and what society is doing to keep them in the dark.  Riabko’s voice beautifully expresses Melchior’s need for something more than his provincial surroundings, and his hopes for a more fulfilling life.

spring-awakening-014Then there’s Blake Bashoff in the show stopping role of Moritz.  His wild nest of hair quickly summing up a young life on the edge.  Plagued by sexual dreams he can’t understand, and school work he can’t handle, Moritz finds himself being pulled into a pit of self-doubt and despair … and Bashoff understands his pain.  With his eyes, sometimes filled with tears, Bashoff sings “And Then There Were None,” and “Don’t Do Sadness” with a passion that is heartbreaking and endearing at the same time.  Moritz is being crushed by forces beyond his control, but Bashoff doesn’t let him go down without a fight.

spring-awakening-005There is no braver performance in “Spring Awakening” than Christy Altomare’s as Wendla.  Playing a character who is denied the most basic information about sexuality, this budding young woman is thrown into the thorn bush of real life.  Not as a victim, but as an innocent, honestly trying to understand what is happening to her body and to her world.  Altomare gives herself completely to the role and bares more than just her soul (there is partial nudity in the show).  There is such beauty and dignity to her work here, and it’s backed by a voice that is pure and strong.  Simply stunning.

I have to honestly say there isn’t a single member of the cast that I couldn’t rave about.  Steffi D, a Top 5 finalist on “Canadian Idol” in 2006 is a powerhouse as Ilse, a runway who takes up with a group of Bohemian artists. There’s no hint of “Idol” self-absorbtion, she is honest and true.

Andy Mientus and Ben Moss have a great moment as a gay couple discovering their own awakening, and Angela Reed and Henry Stram are terrific in all there adult roles.  It’s simply a dream cast through and through.

spring-awakening-003Don’t forget, you also get an incredible rock band on stage, surrounded by a set that includes bleachers on the wings for a few lucky audience members.  It doesn’t matter where your seats are though, if you’re in the house … you’re in for one of the most memorable live theatre experiences you will ever have.

Is “Spring Awakening” for everybody?  No.  The language can be rather blue at times … in fact I can’t even print the name of one of the best songs in the show.  As I mentioned earlier, there is nudity as well.  I know this is a show that can break down walls and open up lines of communication between teens and parents, but there has to be a willingness to confront some challenging material.  If you have a child of high school age I highly doubt that there is anything in this show that they haven’t seen or at least heard about.  The producers recommend age 15 as a starting point.

spring-awakening-008Productions like “Spring Awakening” do not come along that often, so when they do it’s time to celebrate and support them.

Go.

Discuss.

Spread the word.

“Spring Awakening” is at The Colonial Theatre through May 24.  Tickets are available at the box office and through Broadway Across America.

http://www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/

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