Sunday 12 June 2011

Spring Awakening UK Tour @ The Greenwich Theatre

I'm not a fan of Spring Awakening.  I know that may seem sacrilege after all the awards the show's won and it's popularity in the musical theatre world.  But it's never appealed.  For me, the show is just a bunch of juvenile teenagers jumping around complaining about the bitch of living.  Until now this view was unfounded, based largely on YouTube clips, although this production has done little to change my mind.  What it did prove, though, is the power of a truly talented cast.

The show was adapted by Sater and Sheik from an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, which proved highly controversial in its day due to the sexual subject matter.  It premiered on Broadway in 2006, making stars of Glee's Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff. 

So what's it about?  Sex.  Set in 19th Century Germany, the show explores the lives of a group of teenagers as they discover sexual awakening.  It covers everything, albeit briefly: from passion and lust, to homosexuality, pregnancy, rape and abortion.  By doing so, however, it feels disjointed.  The narrative flits from scene to scene and character to character but lacks depth in its characterisation and the emotional weight necessary to be truly shocking, straying at times too far into melodrama.

A key problem is the question of audience.  Adults may take the opportunity to look back fondly on their childhood but may also take the juvenile viewpoint.  Yet the predominantly teenage audience (the same age as the characters) clearly felt uncomfortable, sniggering through the more sexual moments.  As such, the show falls into an odd void.

Then there's the music.  The folk-rock style helps to bring the story into the twenty-first century and the many chorus harmonies are well arranged.  The two best songs are Mama Who Bore Me and its following reprise, which effectively sets the tone of the show and The Bitch of Living, which is catchy enough.  But tellingly, these are the first two songs - the subsequent numbers sound all too familiar.  This monotonous approach serves the lack of characterisation, which would benefit from more distinct musical styles.  The modern lyrics also seem at odds with the sometimes stilted language of the script.

It's therefore testament to the quality cast that, despite the show's flaws, I still thoroughly enjoyed this production.  Many members of the cast are fresh out of drama school, bringing the youthful exuberance needed to portray these characters.  Whilst Jonathan Eio (Melchior) and Victoria Serra (Wendla) stand out as the protagonists, the standard of singing was exceptional across the board, the performances enthralling.  The on-stage band were tight and, as a whole, the production was as slick and professional as you'd expect from a Broadway show.

The moral of the story?  No matter what the material, talent will always shine through.