Monday, March 16, 2009

Teen Angst 101: Love, Lust and Suicide

Spring Awakening
14 March 2009: Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square, Cleveland, Ohio

Nearly two years after I spoke with Duncan Sheik in the days leading up to his winning multiple Tony Awards for his work on Spring Awakening with Steven Sater, I finally had the opportunity to see the musical itself when the national tour stopped at Playhouse Square. It is a tough show to watch, if only because of the weight of the subject matter. Repression, sex, abortion, suicide. It’s got it all.

I generally find Sheik's singer/songwriter albums unremarkable, but the music here set to Sater's lyrics is fantastic. The cast we saw perform the show was excellent, particularly Blake Bashoff (who played Moritz on Broadway) and Steffi D (whose powerful voice commanded attention even in the smaller role of Ilse). Catchy and powerful, there is an obvious pop bent to the songs and a certain rock philosophy applied to the staging. Songs like “The Bitch of Living”, “My Junk” and “Totally Fucked” all fit perfectly in the confines of the production and are memorable enough to stick with you days later.

The band – keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, Cello, Violin, and Viola – is on the stage, center back. And there are cast members interspersed between and among audience members actually seated on stage as well. It’s a unique and creative way to make a show that is based on a play that’s been banned repeatedly since originally written by Frank Wedekind 1891 relevant to today's audiences.

There were a lot of high school-aged kids at Saturday night’s production. It was one of the regular “Teen Night” events that accompany this show on tour. The subject matter of the musical is some pretty heady stuff, but by combining it with the musical style employed, its ripe for sparking this sort of dialogue.

Given the source material themes, it’s sometimes feels strange to say you enjoyed a show like this, but it really was a fantastic production. And I can't get these songs out of my head.