A little bit of magic Broadway found its way to San Jose this week, with the opening of the Broadway hit Spring Awakening at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts. Armed with a charming and dynamic young cast, a pop-rock score, and lively dance numbers, this 8-time Tony award winner is sure to be a hit with teens and young adults.
The cast, capably led by Christy Altomare as Wendla, Jake Epstein as Melchior, and Taylor Trensch as Moritz, tell the story of teens in 19th Century Germany exploring their budding sexuality. At turns comedic and tragic, the emotions are amplified by an indie-rock score using a modern vernacular, making it more like "Rent" than an Andrew Lloyd Weber period piece. It's quirky, creative, and fun, with serious cautionary messages for teens and adults. I enjoyed the piece overall, and think it is one that parents could use as a lynch pin for serious discussions about sex, suicide, sexual abuse, and abortion. I don't recommend this for kids under 14, due to the mature themes, brief nudity, and strong language.
To me, the standouts in the cast were Steffi D as Ilse, a troubled girl who runs away from sexual abuse at home. Steffi has a wonderful, emotive voice, perfect for ballads and rock numbers alike. I also enjoyed watching Andy Mientus as Hanschen, whose oily, brazen seduction of an innocent classmate, Ernst, was a scene-stealing moment. My husband thought he looked like Spike from Buffy the Vampire, and with his white-blond hair and swagger, I thought that was a fair comparison.
Where the show fell down for me was in the story line. Based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind that was banned for nearly 100 years, due to it's treatment of issues like homosexuality, teen suicide, and abortion. It seemed as though someone sat down with a laundry list of horrific events that could befall a teen and stitched them together into a loose storyline.
While the first act is all about discovery and confusion, my husband noted that the second act could have been called "Rude Awakening." The second half of the play seemed to reinforce nothing good can come of sex, including death, despair, and reform school. There didn't seem to be any sense of redemption or reconciliation, though the closing number talks of hope of rebirth and regeneration. I don't think the story naturally led to that conclusion.
I was also not thrilled with the reinforcement of the notion that all adults are the same, depicted literally by having every adult role played by the same man and woman. The adult characters seemed uniformly oblivious and unsympathetic to what the kids were going through, whether they were parents, teachers, or clergy. I can definitely see that from a child's perspective, that might appear to be true. I can understand why this show has such a large teen following, particularly for kids who feel marginalized or that their parents just don't understand the pressures they feel.
Our town recently been rocked by a serious of very public and painful teen suicides that has ripped the fabric of our community. It was particularly timely and poignant to watch this played out on stage, and the music seemed to be very much on point, particularly in showing the anger that kids feel that no matter what they do, as the song says, they're "totally f*cked". I hope if nothing else, this should could open a frank dialogue between teens and their parents.Spring Awakening is part of a national tour that runs through Sunday, November 1 at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts. For tickets, click here. For information on other cities and dates, check out the Spring Awakening tour website.
PHOTO 1: (l-r)
Kimiko Glenn, Gabrielle Garza, Christy Altomare,
and Sarah Hunt.
PHOTO 2: Steffi
D. as Ilse
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik. Photos used with permission of Carla Befera Public Relations.
Disclosure: I received two complimentary media passes to attend the show, but no other compensation for this review. Opinions expressed herein are solely mine.