By Keith Kreitman
Christy Altomare and Jake Epstein star in 'Spring Awakening.'
Daily Journal correspondent
I needed to hustle down to catch its short run for Broadway San Jose at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts to find out whether "Spring Awakening” justified all of those theater awards it gathered in 2007, and yes, it did. Among others, it was nominated for eleven Tony Awards and swept in eight of them. If this is a touring company, one would wonder how much better the original show might have been.
With a "knockout” musical score, this "pop rock” musical is one of those theater works that "snap, crackle and pop,” from the opening until the last delicious spoon full. It is one of those tightly written and symbolic masterpieces of modern musical theater that takes just enough time to say what it needs to and moves on, ultimately, to enter the permanent repertoire of American theater works.
Because the story line is so simple and sparse, the acting, singing, music and the creatively, tight choreography by Bill T. Jones must carry the burden. The staging is unique in that audience members are seated in stands on either side of the stage and act as a kind of a "Greek chorus” to the action.
I can tell you this. This is not "family fare.” This is not "The Sound of Music.” It’s set during the repressive 19th century in Germany. The nature of the subject matter kept it censored or unproduced for many years. It is a story that never needed to end in tragedy and would, likely, continue do so to this day if sexual enlightenment for youth were still as restrained.
Handsome, intelligent and admired young schoolboy Melchior Gabor (Jake Epstein), questions the morality and the repression of the status quo of that era and strains against it while at the same time he is trying, within his own limited knowledge gained from books, to help enlighten his best friend, the insecure Moritz Stiefel (Taylor Trensch), who is sinking under the burden of an emerging sexuality he does not understand.
A friend to Melchior, Wendla Bergmann (Christy Altomare), on the other hand, to no avail, is trying to pry out of an adult, her mother, the mysteries of conception, a lack of knowledge of which leads to one of the tragic events in story.
All sorts of sexual tensions emerge in the script that still resonate with the young of today and this musical could be a brief textbook for parents and other adults on how to help alleviate the stresses of this natural development in the young.
The musical began developing in a small, 165-seat theater in New York and there was some concern as to how a Broadway, or an off-Broadway production would be received and, apparently, the "timing” was right and the musical has not only become a big success with adults but, also, a "cult” favorite among teenagers.
No need to catalogue here the details of the sexual dislocations and variations in the couplings in the story because these emerge from the actions and mouths of the young cast. And, they run the gamut of natural and common experiences. Enough to say, if the reception of the audience in San Jose is the measure, the shock values have much withered away since the time when Frank Wedekind first attempted to stage the play.
The three young leads are excellent. Perhaps, Trensch stands out a bit more because he has the meatier role as the super-sensitive Moritz.
Two adults, Angela Reed and John Wojda, play all of the adults and, delineate each role so convincingly, it took me awhile to realize there were only the two of them on the stage doing all the adult roles.
Other students and youngsters in the musical are done by Steff D, Gabrielle Garza, Kimiko Glenn, Anthony Lee Medina, Andy Mientus, Ben Fankhauser, Matt Shingledecker, Krystina Alabado, Justin Scott Brown, Kayla Foster and Lucas A. Wells.
My conclusion: The record number of awards was justified and if you, as I, had missed this production before, now is the time to catch an excellent touring version of a certain future musical classic.
IF YOU GO: "Spring Awakening,” book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind.
PRESENTED BY: Broadway San Jose. Directed by Michael Mayer.
WHERE: San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday. Closes Nov. 1.
TICKETS: $20 - $75.
CONTACT: 408-792-4111 or www.sjtix.com