Chronicle Review: Broadway’s ‘Awakening’: banned play returns with a modern twist

Michelle Collins

After being banned for 70 years for its disturbing scenes, far too realistic storylines and for delving into the scary truth of adolescence in 1890 Germany, “Spring Awakening” hits Broadway to entertain a whole new generation.

“Spring Awakening” is based on German Frank Wedekind’s dramatic play by the same name. This time around, the play was morphed into a musical drama, with splashes of humor. Lyrics were written by Steven Sater and them music was composed by Duncan Sheik. “Spring Awakening” recently had its world premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company in the summer of 2006, and will make its Broadway premiere on December 10.

“Spring Awakening’s” content is disturbing enough for 2006, but to think this play was originally written in 1890 is astonishing. The characters deal with the normal adolescent issues: confusion, love, lust. However, the play also enters the darker side of adolescence, including suicide, teenage pregnancy (which leads to death), and abuse. The young characters in “Spring Awakening” deal with issues that teenagers still cope with today. Jonathan Groff plays the main character, Melchoir Gabor, who is a handsome and charismatic young man that falls in love with Wendla Bergmann, who is played by Lea Michele. The adults in the movie, played by Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella and Christine Estabrook, fail to teach the teenagers anything about intercourse and its consequences. This ignorance leads to an unplanned pregnancy between Gabor and Bergmann which, in turn, leads to catastrophe. The performances leave nothing to the imagination despite an almost fully-clothed love scene between Gabor and Bergmann.

The lack of knowledge on the subject of intercourse also affects the awkward and neurotic Moritz Stiefel, played by John Gallagher, Jr., who ends up committing suicide because he does not understand the pre-pubescent thoughts he is having, and whose father does not believe in him. Several of the other smaller characters also deal with the serious issues of abuse and confusion in regards to their sexual orientations.

“Spring Awakening” has disturbing yet realistic scenes and storylines, but it also has amazing energizing song and dance numbers in addition to a good amount of humor. While the play goes into detail on the dark subjects of adolescence, it also in a subtle way makes light of such topics and gives the play a more modern twist. Though the signs outside the theater accurately read, “for mature audiences only,” the several humorous scenes and songs provide a good balance for an otherwise dramatic play.

“Spring Awakening’s” subject matter is explicit, a good portion of the lyrics are profane and several onstage performances could be dubbed soft core pornography. Even if such topics don’t interest you, consider the humorous, modern twists on the subject matter, or the entertaining and inspiring song and dance performances by the up-and-coming cast of this extraordinary coming of age play that is not afraid to offend, inspire and arouse a new generation of audiences.