With Spring Awakening, Boston Gets a Musical Awakening

spring_awakeningBefore the lights dim and band plays its first chord, there’s an unusual sense of energy and anticipation in Boston’s Colonial Theatre. For one thing, I’m used to being one of only a handful of people under the age of 50. Not so today. In fact, most of the people milling around the lobby or flipping through the playbill around me appear to be in their teens or early twenties, which is a welcome change.

As that first achingly familiar melody (thanks to iTunes) fills the theatre, we’re almost transported back to late nineteenth century Germany. I say almost, because it’s the Germany of Spring Awakening, an odd anachronistic world where microphone-wielding teens rock out and adults have several different identities. The band sits, totally exposed, onstage and the scenes are framed by several rows of chairs filled with audience members.

It’s an off-beat but thrilling musical theater experience: part rock concert, part morality play.

Based on the controversial play of the same name, Spring Awakening chronicles the sexual awakenings of a group of German teens whose parents have left them completely ill-equipped to cope with their hormones and budding sexuality. The musical tackles issues of authority vs. personal responsibility, teen suicide, homosexuality, sexual abuse, and teen pregnancy. Pretty heavy for late nineteenth century Germany, isn’t it?

(Another theater company in Boston, Zeitgeist, felt that those issues were so important that they also mounted a production of the play to run simultaneously as a counterpoint to the musical’s run. I have not seen that production, but I felt it worth mentioning here.)

Like the audience, the cast skews young (the youngest cast member is a recent high school grad). This creates a youthful energy and sincerity, although sometimes the band’s driving rock sound sometimes overpowers the cast’s young voices, making it difficult to hear all of the lyrics.

My boyfriend, who is not familiar with the show, had a little trouble following it at times for this reason. I, on the other hand, have listened to the cast album enough times to be able to sing along (not that I would). Still, there’s nothing quite like seeing the simple, yet effective staging and hearing the songs in dramatic context.

Standouts include Black Bashoff (Moritz) and Kyle Riabko (Melchior), who are both reprising the roles they played on Broadway. Melchoir is a particularly weighty role, which requires Riabko to run the vocal gamut from a low, driving rock sound to a high, ethereal falsetto.

In the end, the effect is powerful, resonating with modern audiences despite its old inspiration.

NOTE: Show contains adult content and brief nudity. Parental discretion advised.

Zeitgeist Stage Company’s Spring Awakening (the play) runs through May 9 at the Boston Center for the Arts.

The national tour of Spring Awakening (the musical) runs through May 24 at Boston’s Colonial Theatre.

Flickr photo courtesy of Mag3737

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About the Author ()

A contributing writer/blogger for DirectoryofBoston.com, Susan Johnston lives and writes near Fenway Park. She loves exploring the city and has also contributed to The Boston Globe, DailyCandy.com, and many other places.

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