I'm usually a lurker but I wanted to take the chance to encourage Mr. Card to give the musical "Spring Awakening" a chance should the opportunity present itself. [I will not include any spoilers past what you will find in a generic description, as not to ruin it for those who might take interest.]
As a poor university student in Lousiana, I haven't experienced very much musical theatre outside of a few overpopularized travelling shows. But this week I was lucky enough to get ahold of a video recording of the show "Spring Awakening."
I can understand where Mr. Card was coming from in his column. I, too, watched the Tonys and was stunned by the "Spring Awakening" musical number. I had heard alot of hype but I was bored by the medley. I had heard others compare it to "Rent" but with the repetion of curse words, sexual themes, and electric guitars, it seemed like a cheap clone rather than something original. I was similarly confused by the director's self-congratulatory speech.
But after seeing the show, the big picture came together for me. It would be easy to read some summaries online and categorize it as a musical celebrating teen sexuality and the anti-Christian rebellion. But I don't think anything could be more misleading.
Indeed, the male lead (Melchior) is an atheist and while he plays a part in the story's romantic plot, he is not a hero. He makes several bad choices and is responsible for some of the most disturbing scenes in the show. Having gone through a similar hateful atheistic period as a teen, I found his character very relevant. People talk about how adolescence is the bridge from childhood to adulthood. Melchior sings about this in "The Mirror-Blue Night." In some ways, he is defined by his reluctance to become an adult and therefore, he builds himself by opposing the ideas and values held by those in authoritative roles. Melchior also seems to suffer from the inflated ego that many teens are inflicted with. He becomes obsessed and dazzled by his own "brilliance." If anything, his character is example of the dangerous nihilistic thoughts that fascinate adolescents.
Regarding the suicide, the demise of that character is partly motivated by a father who responds without compassion when his son fails academically, sacrificed by an institute which sees his continual limping along as a disgrace. The final straw seems to be when said character makes a desperate cry to a friend's mother who dismisses his suffering and misfortunes.
I know there are parents who love their children. But I've always appreciated art which deals with the uglier side of life. Perhaps it might open a dialogue between teenagers and their parents. And when miscommunication or emotional disconnect seems to be at the root of so many teen struggles, I think this musical could fuel alot of good discussion.
I didn't get the sense that this musical is encouraging people to hate God or have engage in promiscuous behavior. It just seems to have a creative way to present the issue that some teens deal with. Going through so many changes can cause some to feel alone, to the extent that they "sense God is dead." The problem isn't Christianity or traditional values, but mothers who despite the dangers to their own girls, still tell their daughters that babies come from the stork. Its about how sexual repression can cause others to turn a blind eye as their children are molested. For me, its about the disconnect between adults and those coming into adulthood.
If nothing else, I recommend the soundtrack. The songs included in the Tony's medley occur early in the show and in context, the sophomoric lyrics seem purposeful (teens once again driven by their own inflated "genius.") The songs gain depth as the soundtrack progresses and there are some true gems. "The Dark I Know Well" is truly haunting. "Blue Wind" is easily my favorite driven by Lauren Pritchard's beautiful voice.
"Spring Awakening" is just a show that says "THIS IS ADOLESCENCE." Its often confusing, commonly ridiculous and overwrought, and unfortunately, sometimes tragic. "Spring Awakeing" isn't going to revolutionize the Broadway musical, but it is a stunning and creative effort which is due some important recognition.
Posts: 1733 | Registered: Apr 2005
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Having seen the show, I agree with OSC. There are a lot of problems with this musical. From the fairly boring music (the power chords! So many power chords!) to the awful lyrics ("Oo, I'm gonna bruise you/Oo, I'm gonna be your bruise" is one of the creepiest attempts at a big romantic lyric I've ever heard on a professional stage), the music is a failure.
The minimalist staging (there are few props and little scenery) doesn't work for this play. Why not? Because the society the play is criticizing doesn't exist anymore. So by presenting it with all the professional flair of a high school production, you're constantly pulled out of 1890s Germany and back into 2007 America, where what was taboo then isn't just commonly accepted, it's old. The modern trappings aren't an updating of the story, they're a distraction from the story (especially putting the band on stage--how am I supposed to suspend disbelief when I can see the guy strumming an electric guitar in the background?) I would guess this is why the elites are giving this musical credit--if you read this staging as an attempt to claim that 2007 America is just as repressive as 1890s Germany, and are the sort of person who says, "Wow, that's deep!" rather than "What are you smoking??", then the theme could work.
The story? At least as retold by the writers of the musical version, it's a recap of Dead Poets' Society, with added taboos thrown in and a Romeo and Juliet-ish ending for kicks. For good measure, we made sure to have kids swearing, graphic teenage sex, masturbation, teen gay sex, child abuse, domestic violence, teen suicide, forced abortions, and religious sexual repression. Some of these themes are thrown in completely gratuitously, and not as a coherent part of the plot (e.g., the preacher at the beginning of Act II, the gay sex song in the middle of Act II.)
The characters are by and large undeveloped, except for Melchior. His love interest doesn't seem to have a personality beyond "in lust with Melchior". His friend (the suicidal one) has little personality beyond "sexually repressed loser". The dialogue is utterly predictable for anyone who's dealt with liberal elites.
And at least the night I saw it, the actors weren't taken the drama seriously, which put the ruining capstone on the whole thing. Cynical, mocking acting can work in a play like Avenue Q, where the characters are supposed to be cynical, mocking modern twentysomethings. It doesn't work in a romantic tragedy.
This play didn't deserve 8 Tonys. And meanwhile, Legally Blonde did the amazing feat of adapting a decent to good movie to a musical in such a way that the musical was better. This included an excellent performance from Christian Boyle as Emmett, and a much sharper script that gave the actors far wittier dialogue to work with. But, you know, there was no on-stage masturbation and at most oblique references to any sexual activity. So no Tonys for Legally Blonde.
Posts: 170 | Registered: Mar 2001
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I actually know very little about the musical. But wouldn't the children coming of age in 1890s Germany be the middle-aged hausfraus tolerating the Holocaust in the 1940s? Is the musical intentionally suggesting that sexual permissiveness leads to genocide?
Posts: 37449 | Registered: May 1999
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quote:But wouldn't the children coming of age in 1890s Germany be the middle-aged hausfraus tolerating the Holocaust in the 1940s? Is the musical intentionally suggesting that sexual permissiveness leads to genocide?
Almost the other way around. The gratuitous gay sex scene/song has the more dominant of the two boys acting very predatory while talking about how he'll stay under the radar for now, and remake society later--but why not enjoy pleasure now? I could read a possible theme of, "If it weren't for the repression, this kid wouldn't have to be a devious shark likely to grow up to join the Nazi party." Or maybe, "Sexual repression kills the bets of the younger generation, and leaves society to the sharks."
However, since the original play was written before Hitler came to power, that theme couldn't have existed in the original play. And other than that one song, I didn't see any suggestion that the musical's author realized that these kids would have been in their 50s when Hitler came to power.
Posts: 170 | Registered: Mar 2001
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