Review: 'Spring Awakening' at PPAC

Review:  'Spring Awakening' at PPACThanks to its successful run on Broadway and its having won Best Musical from the Drama Desk, NY Drama Critics and Tony voters, theatergoers in NYC knew that Spring Awakening is an amazing show.  It is now up to the touring cast to take that message across North America.  The show opened at The Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) last night and plays through April 26th.

Directed by Michael Mayer with choreography by the legendary Bill T. Jones, Spring Awakening features a score by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. The source material for the musical is Frank Wedekind’s 1891 drama Spring Awakening, which is having its own resurgence thanks to the musical.   The musical has familiar themes, but quickly distinguishes itself as a wholly different, sometimes uncomfortable, but captivating, work.

As the rock musical opens the audience meets a group of German teenagers who are coping with feelings that are universal and instantly recognizable.  The characters’ angst, the seemingly all-importance of the present mixed together with a healthy dose of hormones lead the characters (inevitably?) into the same issues that teens deal with in the 21st century.  There is the shame of the Church for lustful attractions to the opposite or same sex, of teachers for failing to reach full academic potential, of parents for failing to live up to the family name.

There is hardly a social taboo that doesn’t get some play in Spring Awakening.  Do not expect an MGM Musical fade-to-black treatment of teen sex, suicide or abortion.  Profanity is celebrated, breasts are bared, sex is simulated and boys kiss each other. Those things alone should sell tickets. Between these vignettes of angst are musical numbers.  The music feels more “Rock Concert” than traditional “Broadway Show”.

Spring Awakening
is presented in two one-hour acts with an intermission.  The first act relies on the musical numbers to keep it going, but the second act is riveting as it resolves many, but not all, of the sub-plots that have been introduced.

The score includes about 20, mostly succinct and unsubtle songs.  The stand-out numbers of the show include “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked”.  These songs are much more than the naughty-word gimmick that their title might imply. They are moving, mostly self-contained, mini-dramas.

Many of the principals from the Broadway show have embarked on the tour and are joined by a talented group of veterans and a handful of young performers who are making their professional debut.  This mix of youth and experience is true asset to the production.

Spring Awakening runs at PPAC through Sunday, April 26th.  Tickets range from $46-$73 and can be purchased at the PPAC Box Office which is located at 220 Weybosset St., Providence, RI, by phone at (401) 421-2787, or online at www.ppacri.com.


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