“Spring Awakening” – Broadway Across America – Arizona ASU Gammage

This review aired on KBAQ December 11, 2008


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

“Spring Awakening” is a bold new American musical that tells an old story in a creative new way. The fine touring production at ASU Gammage gives the show the same theatrical flourish and panache that distinguishes the Broadway production that won eight Tony Awards.

Based on an 1891 play, the original “Spring Awakening” was a trend setter. It was years before it was ever performed. It looks at how repressed German teenagers come to terms with their sexuality and their maturing bodies in the late 19th century when such things weren’t discussed. The first act is a joyous celebration of youth and the promise each sees as maturity begins. The more dramatic second act brings genuine sadness as their discoveries cause severe consequences. The show’s finale, the haunting “The Song of Purple Summer” suggests that some learn from others trauma.

Steven Sater adapts the play and writes the songs’ moving lyrics set to Duncan Sheik’s dramatic music. This modern score is filled with beautiful melodies.

The show’s shimmering brilliance comes from director Michael Mayer’s stark storytelling that is intensified by Bill T. Jones’ award-winning choreography. A simple unit set serves as several locales in the German town where the story unfolds and some audience members sit on stage with the cast. Masterful lighting lends an evocative feel to the places. The orchestra sits at the back of the set bringing deep passion to the stirring songs.

The cast couldn’t be better. Three teenagers are at the story’s center. Kyle Riabko’s Melchoir is a sensitive young man who can’t face reality when he discovers that his love, Wendla, dies while having an abortion of the child they created. Christy Altomare makes Wendla’s yearning for love sensitive and touching. Blake Bashoff’s Moritz, is played with touching emotionalism.

Angela Reed and Henry Stram play all adult roles as they shift easily between a variety of personalities who are afraid of young people and their sexual urges. If only these prudes could speak candidly with the kids they treasure but ignore. The rest of the ensemble plays other youths. All sing beautifully, act with emotional involvement, and create tenderly moving but always confused characters.

It will be a long time before you see a musical that will so ingratiate you into its story. Do understand that this musical’s adult themes may turn off some theatergoers. If you love thoughtful and beautifully produced theater, though, “Spring Awakening” is a masterpiece. Make the time to see it before it closes on Sunday, December 14. For tickets, call the Ticketmaster box office at 480-784-4444 or go online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: A