Capital Critics' Circle
Le cercle des critiques de la capitale

Reviewing Theatre in Canada's Capital Region
La critique théâtrale de la région Ottawa-Gatineau

Spring Awakening: The Musical – Effective presentation of the subject matter

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: Modella Media

Photo: Modella Media

Review of Spring Awakening: The Musical
Spring Awakening: The Musical
Book and lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind
Orpheus Musical Theatre Society

Much of the subject matter of Spring Awakening — both the original play and the musical — make Philip Roth’s once-controversial novel Portnoy’s Complaint seem comic-book light.

Playwright Frank Wedekind wrote Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening) in 1891, attacking German bourgeois society for its repressive attitude, particularly towards young people. The play — originally sub-titled A Children’s Tragedy — was considered scandalous because of its explicit sexual content and was banned on publication. Another 15 years passed before it appeared on stage in Berlin.

The content makes it an even more unlikely subject for a musical — even a rock musical — than Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. However, both were Tony Award winners, Sweeney Todd in 1979 and Spring Awakening in 2006. The musical, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, also won Drama Desk and Olivier awards.

Yet, even in the sexually liberated west in 2016, the content remains controversial. The portrait of the uncomfortable transition from adolescence to adulthood offers simulated heterosexual intercourse/sexual assault, suggested male masturbation, wet dreams, a little sado-masochism, a short homosexual love scene, a back-street abortion and references to sexual and physical abuse and abandonment. All this is capped off by the deaths of two of the principals, one by suicide and the other because of a botched abortion. (Continue reading » )