Sunday, January 13, 2008

You watch me, just watch me

I am in love. With this musical:

I know people have been raving about it since 2006 (it debuted on Broadway near the end of 2006, but had opened about midway through that year and had been in development since 1999; it's based on an old German play)--rave reviews and the 2006 Tony for best musical have certainly built up hype--and one of the songs from it, "The Bitch Of Living," was a free download on iTunes at one point (very early 2007, maybe? I can't remember for sure), but, not being too near New York, I wasn't able to see it until this weekend...which, sadly, means that I missed seeing John Gallagher Jr. in the role he won a supporting actor Tony for. He's moved on and been replaced by Blake Bashoff, who might be familiar to you if you watch the TV show Lost--he's Karl, the boyfriend of the daughter of the French woman (who was raised as Ben's daughter). I'm not a musical expert and I didn't see John Gallagher Jr. , but my friend who is and had thought Blake did a good job in the role, especially with the singing aspect.

I'm jumping ahead of myself, though. You'll get some people now who are upset with all the raves this musical is getting and all the statements that it'll revolutionize Broadway--a backlash of sorts--but really, I adored it--it was such a...rush. The music is very deliberately modern or more commercial sounding (it's frequently referred to as pop, rock, alt-rock, punk, etc.--basically, quality pop), perhaps not a surprise, since it was composed by Duncan Sheik, who at the very least you probably know for his '90's hit "Barely Breathing" you've probably heard. The work he's done here has definitely sparked my interest in looking up more of his work, since in my opinion Spring Awakening includes the set of songs that's caused me to feel the greatest range and depth of emotions in a long time. The musical backdrop Duncan Sheik has created for these stories is lush.

This is bedroom music, and that's not some veiled reference to the fact that the musical is about teens' sexual awakening--it's that it's the sort of music that makes you want to shut the door and alternately sing along like a rockstar and collapse on your bed so you can just lie there and let the music sweep through you. As great as the cast recording--available on iTunes and Amazon--is, though, it has nothing, absolutely nothing on seeing the songs performed live. The context, energy, and dynamism are incredible. In its live version, "Totally Fucked" is the best youth anthem I've heard in ages; it's incredibly difficult to resist the urge to jump up and sing along with the characters. You better believe that if I wasn't leaving the country in two days I'd be selling pretty much anything I own to buy another plane ticket to New York and a dozen more tickets to see this musical. If you live anywhere in the eastern half of the U.S., you have to go see it (well, unless you're really young--there is partial nudity). If you live in the western half of the U.S. or outside the U.S., find an excuse to go to New York anyway--or you can wait for the tour and international productions scheduled to begin this year. Failing that, YouTube thankfully has some bootlegged performances of the show, many of which come from this account.

As for what Spring Awakening is actually about? I'm not sure that a brief plot synopsis will really get across how gorgeous and effective this show is--you need everything, the music, the performances, the staging, the choreography, and the lighting (which is really worthy of special mention)--to realize why it's such an exciting musical, but in short, it's centered on three teenagers living in Germany in the 1890s. The show opens with Wendla's mother lying to her about where babies come from (trust me, this is a lot less cheesy than it looks written out like this), and from that lie and the similar unwillingness of parents and other adult figures to deal openly with issues related to sex (as well other restrictions) stems a chain reaction of kind of depressing events (though it's maybe worth handling that I can't handle anything with too depressing an ending and I loved this musical wholeheartedly). In short, age old story of teenage rebellion against a strict society or "the system," but combined, everything about it adds up to an exhilarating and heartbreaking experience that does one of the best jobs of capturing that awkward growing up stage that I've seen.

The key thing, though, is that you have to see this musical and you have to hear the music. I've had the songs playing in my head constantly since leaving, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

John Gallagher Jr. as Moritz performing "And Then There Were None" (the song starts a little over a minute and a half in, but that first minute and a half may give you some idea of context), in bootlegged quality--I've had "uh-huh uh-huh uh-huh well fine, it's not like it's even worth the time" popping into my head at all sorts of odd times since seeing it performed

Jonathan Groff as Melchior singing "The Mirror-Blue Night"--I adored his voice on the night I saw this, and the song is beautiful and haunting. Once again, though, and I can't say this enough, it works so much better if you see the whole show...and see it live

Cast performing "Totally Fucked"--this song comes at the perfect time in the musical, but that's only part of the reason that the atmosphere in the theater is positively electric when this song is performed. As I said above, live, it's the best youth anthem I've heard in ages--I mean, those "blah blah blah"s are screaming out to be shouted along with. Hats off to the person in charge of lights as well. The song starts about two minutes in, but once again, those first few minutes establish some context, though not really enough to totally get why this song is such a release. If you're going to see the show live, skip watching this performance now and save it for then.

The Dark I Know Well (a duet that comes after Wendla's friend Martha has accidentally revealed to her friends that her father beats her; this song [a monologue, as basically the songs on the musical are--they generally reflect inner thoughts], though, reveals that she, as well as Ilse, a girl thrown out by her family, have yet another secret. It's totally beautiful--love the piano--and that makes what the girls are singing about even worse)

More from me--whether it's more coherent thoughts on this or some other things I'm enjoying--soon, hopefully, as well as catching up on everything!


paul @ said...

May i just say I am very excited about the prospect of a little sideline into theatrepostergirl for a while. I fell in love too with Spring Awakening last year when i was in NYC and found the music to be both instrumentally complex and lyrically intense - a combination that doesn't always equal success at the theatre. However, Duncan has done an amazing job of piecing together a story through vignettes, group pieces and lovely solos that stands out as much as a standalone concept album as it does a holistic theatrical piece. I hope you write more on it soon :)

Adem With An E said...

OH! What a heavenly read! I really do wish we had a broadway scene here in Oz :( Although we are getting "Wicked" here very soon which I'm tres excited about.

Everything I've read about Spring Awakening has made me want to see it even more. I'm hoping they (eventually) bring it down here...

Resa said...

Hello from Spain! :D

Ahh, I saw Spring Awakening in March of last year. What a great musical! I hope you'll write more on it.

(Unrelated, but I got my hands on the real copy of D'Nash's "Todo va a cambiar" and the photos that came with the picture are totally weird. Haha)

Poster Girl said...

Paul, I just adore your way with words! I didn't get to see any other musicals or plays while I was there, but I'd love to go back, or maybe travel around and see some others.

Ooo, great! That you all are getting Wicked, that is. And thanks! Hopefully it will get to tour to Australia or get its own production there...

Ahh, Spain! I hope you're settling in well there and everything!

daringniche said...

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