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09 September 2011 @ 03:31 pm
San Jose Rep: Spring Awakening  
The musical Spring Awakening keeps popping up in the South Bay; over the past few years I think three different theatre companies have shown it. (Theatreworks in Mountain View, Broadway San Jose, and now the San Jose Rep.) The first time I heard about it, I wasn't interested. The second time, I was surprised to see it re-appear so soon, but still not intrigued. When I saw that it was back yet again, I thought I ought to see what the fuss was about, since it's very unusual for a show to get so much play when it's barely five years old.

Jeannie and I went to see Spring Awakening at the San Jose Rep, sitting up in the balcony in the cheap seats. I had forgotten - I always forget - that the Rep is an awful venue acoustically; if you sit in the balcony the sound quality is severely compromised. This isn't so bad in a play; who cares if an actor's voice sounds slightly tinny? But in a musical, where singing is so integral to the plot, it's a disaster. I'd say I missed a quarter of the song lyrics because the vocals get swallowed up in the music or so distorted by microphones that you can't understand what the actors are saying. It's quite frustrating. But watch and see, in a few months I'll have forgotten this critical fact and I'll be at the Rep again, up in the balcony, irritated as can be.

So, Spring Awakening. I'm much too lazy to write out a synopsis of the plot, which is long and depressing, but Wikipedia has an excellent, detailed synopsis so just hop on over there for more info.

I'm surprised the show has won as many Tonys and other awards as it has, because I found it to be very boring, musically, and utterly depressing, story-wise. I think that it is so acclaimed simply because it addresses as many controversial issues as it can cram into a two acts. I mean, we've got sex, rape, incest, homosexuality, teenage sex, rebellion, youth vs. adults, abortion, child abuse, masturbation, suicide, religion and did I mention sex? All of this is set to a folk rock soundtrack on a minimalist stage. Edgy is this musical's middle name.

The only characters that get any real development are the two leads, Wendla and Melchior. Everyone else seems to exist only to personify one of these teenage crisises. For example, there's a girl being abused, physically and sexually, by her father. You could write a whole musical just about that! But after the character is trotted out for her big solo about the trauma, she is shuffled into the shadows and never heard from again, except as a part of the chorus. Same with the two gay characters - they sing a song about their love (which is only a reprise of the leads' love song) and not much else. It was disappointing.

I feel like it's not quite fair to complain about the music, because I heard it in such a compromised situation...but it just didn't sound like anything special. It was a rather generic alt-folk-rock sound. None of the songs were showstopping; they didn't really show off the singer's vocal prowess or lyrical cleverness. I did think it was pretty neat that there was a live band on stage though.

Also, what a freakin' downer. Spring Awakening makes Hamlet look downright cheerful!