Theatre Review: ‘It’s as if the Entire World Were Mesmerized by Penis and Vagina.’

review

Spring Awakening, book and lyrics by Steven Sater, music by Duncan Sheik, based on the play by Frank Wedekind; produced by Coterie Theatre: seen September 8, 2012

I was first introduced to the music of Spring Awakening while I was stage managing The Barn Players’ production of The Full Monty. There’s a metaphor in that somewhere about how sex and nudity is becoming more and more an ‘okay’ topic for the conversation that is theatre. However, the fact that the play it’s based on was written in 1891 shows how little we’ve actually come in over 100 years in the field of sex education and in discussing sex at all with our children.

Awarded eight Tonys, including Best Musical, in 2007, the rock musical by Duncan Sheik follows the tale of a group of teenagers in late 19th century Germany as they face the many hurtles of being a teenager, especially their awakening sexuality, with a primarily focus on Wendla Bergmann (Caroline Elizabeth Drage) and Melchoir Gabor (Will Amato). This, along with the knowledge of my favorite song of the soundtrack being titled, “Totally Fucked”, made me more than a little leery when I heard the Coterie was going to produce it. After all, this is the theatre that TIME voted one of the top five theatres serving young audiences.

However, by tying the production in with the Dramatic Health Education Project (including a short video about the project before the performance), the Coterie hits a grand slam of a night of theatre that should be required viewing for any parent that has (or will have) a teenager. Hell, even if (like me) you never plan on having kids, the production makes you remember why being a teenager was one of the most awkward times of life and be glad that, for the most part, it does get better.

The awkward laughter during “The Bitch of Living” (where I witnessed what I think is the first time I’ve ever seen a masturbation scene on stage – and definitely the first time I’ve ever seen it on the Coterie’s stage!) shows that even today, our society is still highly uncomfortable with sex. And I’ll admit: while I could make jokes about how cute the boys are in their short pants (and how they made me feel like a dirty old woman), seeing Drage caress her body in a too-short dress even made me feel slightly uncomfortable and a bit pervy.

The show is virtually flawless in its production. From the tech (including an excellent use of TV monitors, using images throughout that accentuates the music on stage) to the excellent choreography (by David Ollington and Tiffany Powell), I was pleasantly impressed with every aspect. Even the use of pre-recorded music, which normally just frustrates me, works – partially because of the space, and partially because it WAS a rock musical. Director Jeff Church does a great job with the actors, walking that thin tightrope between awkwardness and sensuality that is the basis of this show.

If you’re a fan of musicals, Spring Awakening manages to do some new tricks while still staying true to storytelling. And if you’re not a fan of musicals, this is the one that may make you rethink what exactly a musical is. I hope to find the time to go see this show again, as it is well worth repeat viewings. After all, “In the end, we only have each other.”

Spring Awakening plays until September 30, and you can find out more information at www.coterietheatre.org.

This review has been posted to the KC Stage review system. Agree or disagree? You can rate / review this show yourself (requires free registration) by going to KC Stage.