Spring Awakening

Like most revolutionary works, Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening was banned from the stage by the morals police of his day (1891) in Germany, surviving for 15 years as an underground best-seller among teenagers. When Max Reinhardt finally put it up in 1906, it became a mainstay of his company's repertoire. Recreated as a musical in 2006 by Duncan Sheik (music) and Steven Sater (lyrics), it won eight Tony Awards.

Bitch of Living performed by cast
"Bitch of Living" performed by cast
Photo: Paul Kolnik
The conversion of an Expressionist play—focused on the consequences of society's denial of sexual instinct—into an Broadway musical may seem a intellectual stretch, but Sheik and Sater's unique approach, mixing modern music and lyrics with the original Victorian dialogue, taps directly into the emotional heart of the matter (in contrast, for example, to Rent, which moved the setting and music from La Bohème entirely into a contemporary idiom).

The pulsations of rock music and the plaintive cries of bluesy ballads provide the perfect subtext for the raging imbalances of any teenager, but when such styles run counterpoint to the strict Teutonic codes of the late 19th Century, the commentary comes alive in a way that is often absent or impossible in contemporary drama, where we are too close to see the forest from the trees. Further focus is attained by self-conscious staging, which employs bleachers for selected audience members and temporarily "off-stage" actors to sit onstage. The eight-piece band is present as well.

Christy Altomare as Wendla and Jake Epstein as Melchior
Christy Altomare as Wendla
and Jake Epstein as Melchior
Photo: Paul Kolnik
Melchior (Jake Epstein) is a precocious scholar who knows more about the birds and bees than any of his friends. His friend Moritz is so distracted by his hormonal tsunami that he can't keep up in school.

Wendla (Christy Altomore) asks her mother (Angela Reed in all the adult female roles) about sex, but gets no definitive explanation.

Thus we have two tragedies about to happen that could have been avoided, but of course that is the message.

Steffi D as Ilse singing Blue Wind
Steffi D as Ilse
singing "Blue Wind"
Photo: Paul Kolnik
The score won the 2008 Grammy for Best Musical Show Album and is arguably the best Broadway rock ever. Bill T. Jones provides a fresh choreographic take on 4/4 time. Christine Jones' scenic design is an inventive yet simple treatment of icons that highlight the century plus gap in sensibilities between then and now. Susan Hilferty's period costumes provide additional commentary on Victorian formality.

Every teenager wrestling with puberty ought to be given a ticket to this show. Their parents ought to see it as well.

Denver Center Attractions' presentation of Spring Awakening, directed by Michael Mayer, runs through December 13th. 303-893-4100 1-800-641-1222, or

Bob Bows


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