Blake Bashoff and Kyle Riabko
Photo: Katy Raddatz/SF Chronicle 2008
My recent trip to San Francisco was bookended by two performances with a unique relationship to one another. Arguably the two most important musical theater productions were on display there - on Saturday I saw one of the movie theater broadcasts for the final Broadway performances of Jonathan Larson’s Rent
and on Sunday evening caught a performance of that work's more recent counterpart Spring Awakening
. The latter is in a first national tour which is currently in the Bay area after opening last month in San Diego. What struck me most about seeing both of these works again side by side was not the rock and roll scores or their influence on musical theater in the early 21st century, but how both are immersed in youth culture while simultaneously relying on cultural artifacts of the 19th century to accomplish their tasks.
Now departed from its Broadway home of over a decade, Rent
will live on in a new national tour. It’s been over a decade since I’ve seen a staged performance of the show, and I was surprised at how affecting it still is even at the remove of a movie theater rebroadcast. It hardly seems dated, which is surprising given that it opened before the internet completely consumed so much of recent popular culture. I was still pleasantly taken with how good the score is. Needless to say the show was wrought with extra layers of nostalgia given the close of the Broadway run and the return of many original cast members for an encore of "Seasons of Love" at the end of the evening.Spring Awakening,
of course, is a much more recent experience having seen it in New York
in late 2006. While the touring production is a facsimile still trying to find its feet, it is also quite remarkable in many ways. Duncan Sheik's score is easily as good as, and perhaps better than, Larson's. The show still generates huge amounts of energy even in some of this production's most unsure moments. The band seemed lackadaisical and slow at times and the over-amplification in the Curran Theater blurred out much of what everyone was singing. The touring cast does include a number of veterans from the New York run including Blake Bashoff’s Moritz and Kyle Riabko’s Melchior. And although the cast is more likely to milk comic lines and mug than is completely necessary, they are still more than able to deliver the emotional goods of the evening.
Of course, the youthful angst of Spring Awakening
is more literally 19th century in origin than that of Rent,
and the audience is invited to marvel at the seeming parallels between now and then. But the fact that both works use the same time period as a starting point is significant. It is not at all surprising that the youthful troubles of the characters in the source material and today are so similar. In fact, it is the late 19th century that is the source of the notion of adolescence to begin with, including the various and sundry "problems" that plague this disaffected class. Hence, there is nothing new to say about young adults since the 19th century precisely because that this very concept is wedded to that time period itself. And while neither piece is bold enough to question the category in and of itself, both immerse themselves in exploiting adolescence for maximum melodramatic effect. To a modern eye these fantasies continue to be provoking and emotional and are sustained by this sort of cultural repetition. In any event, both shows will be on display around the country in the coming year with Spring Awakening arriving in Los Angeles
before year's end. If it's new to you, it is well worth seeing.
Labels: Out of Town Theater Reviews