Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater's musical retelling of Wedekind's expressionist play, "Spring Awakening" takes the dark topical story and retells it with contemporary fashions. At the same time the musical odes lovingly the controversial dynamics and style that were presented way back in 1906.
When first produced, the play held the sub title, "A Childrens Tragedy." It is a murky and woeful tale, remarking towards sexual oppression, and the dangers of an uneducated mind when sexual innocence begins to dwindle. The musical keeps Wedekind's essential story which covers multiple branches such as masturbation and basic human sexual desires to abortion, and the fusion of violence and sexual urges.
The fusion of period and contemporary mashing together like two sponge cakes under a stack of books is built into this musical's DNA, and Jonathan Barry and the designers assembled contemporary flare work in their favor. Allison Kane brings the score home with a band as lively and as present as the cast. Marriana Csaszar's set with Lee Keenan's definite light function well together from an angry pop rock concert to a somber mood lit by a lone candle (not literally.) Images are created in the simplest of ways not overbearing the story.
Structural issues with the musical are not necessarily fixed. As a straight play "Spring Awakening does not offer a musical finale ending. We see our hero befallen with tragedy sever, especially given their ages. The final song, "The Song of Purple Summer" is confusing and removes the audience's vulnerability that the show has worked so hard to create. As an audience we have suffered great loss along with Melchior. When the entire ensemble files on stage smiling and singing, the purpose of what we have just witnessed becomes milky.
The concept of sexual liberalsies still and will maybe always be a topic worth discussion, and the play's tragic plot, and expansive look into desire brings it to the for front. Barry's production does deliver what you might expect, but in doing so honors the truth and morality of what is actually a cautionary tale.
Griffin Theatre's production of "Spring Awakening" runs Nov 27th - Jan 8th Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sun 3pm at Theater Wit 1229 West Belmont in Chicago. Tickets are $28-38 and can be purchased by calling the Theater Wit box office at 773 975 8150.
Reviewed by Michael Montero