Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Professional Hat

OK, folks. My job is to talk/write about musicals, so here's my mental regurgitation of Spring Awakening, which I saw this afternoon with my grandmother. A more nuanced paper may eventually include some of these ruminations, but this is my gut reaction, for what it's worth. I must note, in passing, that we chose an unfortunately highly understudied performance to attend; both male leads and one of the supporting males were understudies.

First of all, I did enjoy the show, though not as much as I hoped to. The music was good--not great--but seemed to have very little to do with the show; it felt like a concept album, not a theatrical performance. This could, perhaps, have something to do with the rock concert conceit the whole show toyed with throughout. I don't object to the conceit at all, if it works. It didn't, at least not for me. Part of that may have come from the fact that all of the actors directed their energy and attention toward the orchestra-level audience, ignoring us poor saps in the balcony. (Coincidentally, as I type this, I am listening to Ella singing "Things are Looking Up." This afternoon, they certainly weren't.)

Energy issues aside, the show had some other, more serious problems. Set in 1890s Germany, it deals with the sexual and moral awakening of several teenagers. Two actors play all of the adult characters (listed as "The Adult Women" and "The Adult Men" in the Playbill), putting the focus squarely on the teens and slimming down the cast. This works well, but the adult actors' attempts to differentiate their many roles led to one of the most unfortunate aspects of the show: when they played teachers, they played them as Nazis. Half a century off, folks. Not all Germans are Nazis, especially not the ones who had been dead for decades when Hitler came to power. This characterization was cheap, easy, and inappropriate (Like a Weimar prostitute? No, that was me being equally cheap and easy.). If the point of the show is the repressive nature of parents and teachers, playing them as Nazis bludgeons this point home unnecessarily.

Next big problem: the song "The Word of Your Body." In the first act, the song is a romantic/sexy duet between Melchior and Wendla, two of the three (all heterosexual) leads. In the second act, it reprises as a duet between Ernst and Hanschen, the gays. No problem so far, until one is made aware that the gay duet is purely comic. What was a moment of heightened sexual awareness and tension, a peak of the show, becomes a ridiculous seduction of (ha ha!) one boy by another! What a joke! Not to mention the relative importance of the straight couple, both leads, versus the gay couple, who have only this song. Also not mentioning the fact that the straights actually simulate having sex on stage, while the gays merely, briefly, kiss.

All in all, disappointing. I intended to write a great deal more about the show, hoping to fit it into some trends in modern musicals and popular culture, but I am exhausted. Stay tuned for My Professional Hat Part 2, coming soon, in which I discuss Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and other glorious things.

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