Friday, March 4, 2011

Spring Awakening

My first memory of Spring Awakening was the performance I saw by the original cast on the 2007 Tony Awards. At the time, I wasn’t going to New York on a regular basis, and I wasn’t following theatre very closely (my addiction was there, but hadn’t taken full root yet. ;). I knew I’d love to see the show. And watching them win 8 Tony awards that night really made me wish I could see it. Sadly, I didn’t get to see the show before it closed. But I did purchase the cast recording fairly quickly and had a basic idea of the plotline of the show.

Knowing that the subject matter of the show was very controversial (even the cast recording as an EXPLICIT label on it) and has some nudity in it, I really figured it would never even come close to Tennessee. I love my state and I love where I live, but sometimes it can be conservative to a fault. Shows like Spring Awakening and RENT are going to get way less support than shows that some would call “more appropriate”.

Anyway, that knowledge in mind, when Spring Awakening came to Atlanta last year, myself and a friend went down to see the show. It was, to say the least, AMAZING. The talent in the show was incredible. But the show itself was a masterpiece. I’m not here to give my opinion on that production, however. I’m here to share about another production of the show. Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center actually picked it up for this season.

If you aren’t familiar with Spring Awakening, one of the most distinguishing parts of the show is that a limited number of audience members sit on stage during the show. I was advised to not get stage seating for the first time I saw the show, but since I’d already seen the show, I opted to try to get a ticket for stage seating when they released additional seating the week before the show opened at TPAC in Nashville. They are cheaper (only $25) than any other seating in the theatre and I knew I was going to be in Nashville last Saturday anyway. And I was lucky. I was able to get a seat.

When you show up at the theatre you go to a specific area and are lined up in a particular order. One person I was standing next to had been at the show the night before and enjoyed it so much she came back. On the other side of me was a young man (only 18) that had tickets to every single show that weekend (the production was only in town Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). Upon talking with him a little more, I found out he’d seen it 7 times on Broadway and had traveled all over the country following the equity tour. Wow (That almost makes me feel normal about my obsession with American Idiot. Almost.).

The set design is pretty amazing. It has things hanging all over the walls, and it looks very crazy, but the coloring fits the mood of the show. It has a very similar feel to the set design from American Idiot, which is no surprise since they were both designed by the very talented Christine Jones. There are two rows of chairs sitting on each side of the stage. Some are left empty for the cast members to use. The musicians are on stage as well. Outside of a few props, and the chairs the cast use, the set is just lighting, the design on the walls, and an area of the floor that is covered in one area with a simple painted design.

The strength of the show is in the music and the dialogue. The songs are almost separate from the dialogue part of the show. It takes place in the 1890s in Germany, so you would think that the rock music type score would clash. But it works. The actors are in one mode while the dialogue is happening, and when the music starts, microphones appear from jacket pockets and the concert begins.

Overall, the show delves into what happens in a truly repressive society where the adults are refusing to talk to the children about ANYTHING even remotely sexual in nature. Once again, even being a conservative of sorts, I can see the problems with this. You end up with what happens in this musical. You have children who are trying to deal with their blooming sexuality, and you end up with death, unplanned pregnancy, and children who have no idea how to deal with issues like homosexuality and masturbation.

The actors in the show were amazing as well. In appearance, they were much younger looking than the cast I saw in Atlanta, and they also looked much younger than the original Broadway cast. One of my favorite characters in the show, Ilse, was played by the beautiful and brilliantly talented Courtney Markowitz. I have always been fascinated with the role of the “outcast” who had been abused and then kicked out of her home when she tried to report it. That character also sings two of my favorite songs in the show, “Blue Wind” and the haunting “The Song of Purple Summer,” which concludes the show.

Elizabeth Judd played a wonderfully innocent Wendla. She was perhaps the youngest looking cast member on stage, which gave credibility to her role. Jeff Ostermueller (understudy) was in for the role of Melchior and did a superb job. In fact, there wasn’t a member of the entire cast that I have a bad word to speak about.

The only issue that happened was during the dialogue right before “Don’t Do Sadness” and “Blue Wind.” There were some technical difficulties. The microphones for both Moritz and Ilse didn’t work. Those of us on the stage could hear them talking, but I’m sure no one past the first couple of rows could. Someone ran out handheld mics to both of them. But I would have hated to have been in the shoes of Courtney Markowitz or Coby Getzug. I very much felt sick to my stomach for them. But they were very professional and just kept right on going.

Perhaps it was because I was seeing the show from the stage (and catching all the little things (mess-ups, facial expressions, etc.), but I enjoyed it more than I had the first time. And I enjoyed it thoroughly the first time I saw it. My advice is that even if you’ve seen the show before, so see this production of it. It would be well worth your time.

Also, if you'd like to read a "real" review, go check out Jeffrey Ellis' review HERE.

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