I have to be honest: I wasn't exactly looking forward to seeing Spring Awakening again. There's something about certain musical tragedies that really depresses me, mostly because, although I can appreciate the stagecraft, I dread the inevitable outcome. Shows that fall into this category for me include West Side Story, Parade, Marie Christine, and Lost in the Stars. All very worthy shows, but de-ee-pressing to sit through.
It's not that I demand a happy ending: I could sit through Grey Gardens or Next to Normal again and again, and those shows are hardly carefree romps. (Yes, Next to Normal. I find I'm becoming more and more enamored of this show as I listen to the CD. A woman's prerogative, and all that.)
But since I have two former students who are currently in the tour cast of Spring Awakening, I felt I should at least do them the courtesy. Plus, I wanted to see if my initial positive reaction to the show still held true. (Read my original review here.)
In short, no. I still think the show is a worthy addition to the musical theater canon, and represents some really compelling work on the part of director Michael Mayer and choreographer Bill T. Jones. But I'm becoming less and less a fan of the score, which has music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater. Sure, the songs are deliberately anachronistic, with mentions of phone calls and stereos, neither of which existed at the time when the show takes place. But I've always reconciled that, as well as the use of hand-held microphones, with the idea that the production team were trying to make the message of the show more universal, using an almost Brechtian style of presentation.
But some of the things that have soured me on the show include Sater's egregious use of slant rhyme (e.g. paring "written" with "wisdom"), the bland undifferentiated nature of many of Sheik's melodies, and the non-integrated nature of much of the score. Often the numbers seem to bear little relation to what's going on in the plot. This is especially true at the top of act two, where we have "The Guilty Ones," "Don't Do Sadness," and "Blue Wind" in succession. Although I was trying to listen to the lyrics to find some connection to the story, I eventually gave up. My attention waned almost entirely until "Totally Fucked" brought me back into the moment. And I'll be damned if I can figure out what "The Song of Purple Summer" is supposed to mean. The promise of the future, I guess, but the lyrics are so random and vague, it's really hard to care.
That said, the cast for the tour is quite strong. It's hard to live up to the dynamic Jonathan Groff as Melchior, but Kyle Riabko does an admirable job of trying to make the part his own. I actually preferred Blake Bashoff as Moritz to Tony Award winner John Gallagher, Jr. I found Gallagher unbearably mannered in the role, but Bashoff made the part simultaneously frenetic and sympathetic. (Oh, and a special shout out to my BoCo peeps Chase Davidson and Kimiko Glenn in the supporting cast. Super job, guys. And break a leg with the rest of the tour.)
Both Sheik and Sater have announced various other musical-theater projects that they've been working on. Sheik recently released the concept album for Whisper House, which is scheduled to have its premiere at the Old Globe in San Diego during its 2009-2010 season. As I said in my review of the Whisper House CD, my fear is that this new project will suffer from the same randomness and lack of integration as Spring Awakening. But, as always, I maintain an open mind, and look forward to seeing how the show comes together.