Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Sorrows of Young Melchior

December 26, 2006

Cast of Spring Awakening
Photo: Joan Marcus 2006

It’s December and German Romanticism is again a big draw in New York. In fact, this may be the headiest days for Goethe and his legacy since the golden age of Faust and Werther at the Met. As before the German language has been supplanted: this time instead of French, we have an English-language musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening which I saw today. The other major difference is that this is not an opera, but arises more from the popular music tradition of Broadway. This supremely engaging production from the Atlantic Theater Company with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik has just transferred to the Eugene O’Neill Theater. Make no mistake about it - this has the making of a big hit looking at the audience this Wednesday evening. It already has multiple enthusiastic repeat-visit teenage fans. Plus when just slightly older pretentious young men in the audience feel the need to loudly state their claim that the show is “overrated” – you know the zeitgeist is aligned for a likely profitable run with an ardent following.

The show itself is great. Maintaining the 19th century setting and events contrasts well with the modern pop/rock music. The piece recalls the ways in which even today sex can be both exciting and dangerous especially for teens. Despite how saturated our culture has become with images and references sex, virtually nothing engages the topic with as much fresh perspective as these two hours. Apparently, the only way to do this anymore is to use a text from over a century ago.

The real hero of the evening though is Duncan Sheik and his wonderful music. Sheik has always been a formidable talent, and with Spring Awakening he may finally have found an avenue to connect to a broader audience. After the marketing folks at VH1 chewed him up and spit him out following his single "Barley Breathing" in favor of C-list comedians tittering over stock video clips, Sheik recorded a number of fine pop records that went largely ignored such as White Limousine, Humming, Daylight, and Phantom Moon. Now he may finally get his due. The pop songs in the score pull on you right away and although some of the higher reaches are tough for the males in this cast, there isn’t a loser in the bunch. The cast itself is terrific including Lea Michele, Jonathan Groff, and John Gallagher, Jr., three young stars who are clearly excited by the reception their work is receiving as evidenced by their truly excited reaction to the crowds standing ovation at the end of the evening.

It’s always a bad sign when a trip to NY starts out this well – There may be nowhere else to go but down.


Brian, really well written review, thanks. I love your mention of the audience members who thought it was over-rated. Every revolution brings with it some resistance, but I doubt anyone could argue that this show is a work of gorgeous brillance. I can't get it out of my head.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?



Opera Reviews '10-'11

Opera Reviews '09-'10

Opera Reviews '06-'09

L.A. Phil Reviews '09/'10

L.A. Phil Reviews '08/'09

L.A. Theater Reviews


Follow Along


Los Angeles

Follow me on Twitter