An “Awakening” of sorts – 4/25/09

Something magical is about it happen. I can tell as I take my seat. I’m practically sitting against the back wall but I am, never the less, on the main floor of the State Theater about to watch my first Broadway show in over a year.

Spring Awakening. The only thing I had heard about the show before walking through the theater doors was that it received a Tony for Best Musical and Best Choreographer in 2007. Oh, and that it was about budding sexuality. Other than that, I was a blank slate, walking in with no preconceived ideas or expectations aside to be entertained. What I didn’t expect was to have my idea of “this is how a musical looks, feels and sounds” to be turned upside down.

What struck me most was the show’s use of song. In my experience, musicals used songs as devices to further the plot. This, however, was not the case in Spring Awakening. According to the play’s lyricist Steven Sater, songs were meant to function as internal monologues. “We would go into this timeless place, into the hearts and minds of these young people,” he said. He continued to say that while he and composer Duncan Sheik wanted to keep the story in 19th century Germany, they both agreed that the characters should “step out into the present day” when they entered the “song world.”

What made the time warp shifts fascinating, and the reason why I thought they worked, was the seamless simplicity of their transitions. The singers would simply pull out a microphone (as if it were normal to have a microphone in a jacket pocket) as the lights faded to a bright red and yellow, as opposed to the dim blues that represented the 19th century storyline. Their singing in the “song world” also had a rock ’n’ roll. Once the song ended, the same seamless shift occurred and suddenly everyone was back in the 19th century.

I was also surprised at the simplicity of the choreography. Being a dancer I love going to shows with the idea of watching fabulous musical theater dancing. However, if I hadn’t been paying close attention, the choreography would have been lost. It was subtle, ordinary. Every raise of the microphone, every gesture of the arm, every walk looked natural. It did not look like “dance” rather it looked human and it fit the songs and the different moods perfectly. And that is the brilliance of choreographer Bill T. Jones.

However, because it wasn’t dance in the “traditional” sense (think high kicks, pirouettes and those oh so famous jazz squares) I’m not convinced that Spring Awakening should have received the Tony for Best Choreography in 2007. Don’t get me wrong; Jones is a genius, but when up against Mary Poppins (with numbers such as “Step in Time” with tap dancing chimney sweeps) and Legally Blonde (with their numerous riffs on hip-hop dancing and exercise videos) one can make the argument that Spring Awakening may not have been the most deserving musical in terms of choreography. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the nuances and motifs Jones created.

Overall it was a fabulously entertaining show. The songs were delightfully catchy; the dances were simple; and the characters were believably innocent.

**Note: I know this is late, but better late than never.


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