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Sunday, June 10, 2007


On this night that honors achievement in Broadway, it occurs to me that the scope of the New York theatre scene continues to evolve (as it should). No longer is there a stylistic standard that musicals seem to adhere to (was there ever one?). As time and musical styles change, so do the types of shows that head to Broadway. In the last few years, musicals about puppets in crisis (Avenue Q), characters made famous by Monty Python skits (Spamalot), a bio-musical (Jersey Boys) and now Spring Awakening have won the coveted title of Tony Award winning Best Musical. All are very diverse musically and continue to garner attention and ticket sales from tours and semi-permanent mountings both nationally and internationally. Theatre producers are making it easier for audiences to see the "It" show by quickly turning around a touring production. There is talk that SA will start touring in 2008, bringing this "ground-breaking musical" to potential theatre go-ers around the country. My question though, is what makes SA so different, so special and revolutionary, that its causing a near frenzy amongst the theatre-going community?

Spring Awakening (the musical) is based on the controversial 1891 play by Frank Wedekind (not to confuse anyone who might be wondering, this SA is entitled "Spring Awakening: A New Musical"). While Spring Awakening virtually swept the 2007 Tony Awards this year, its style reminded me of another ground-breaking musical that changed the landscape of musicals in 1996...Jonathan Larson's Rent.

Rent was the rock musical that spoke to me...the one for my generation. Every generation (or decade for that matter) has one (or 5) it seems. The list below is an example of some of the more popular and well known rock musicals of the last 40 years:
When Rent first broke through on Broadway, theatre audiences began to talk about how edgy Larson's music was. There were claims that he was changing the scope of the modern day musical. Had his life not been cut short at 36 as he was just starting to discover success, who knows what Larson could have done. His music was unlike the typical lilting, lyrical Broadway song as he was forging his own voice, style and image for the stage. Rent was a modern day telling of the classic Puccini opera, La Boheme of 20-somethings "bohemians" living in the lower east side of New York. The characters sang about drugs, death, HIV and of course paying Rent while electric guitars hummed the edgy for Broadway music that young people were attracted to in droves. Rent changed the way I looked at the Broadway made musicals look cool and unlike the style of shows my parents and grandparents enjoyed. It was a musical that I could blare from my car and not feel like a complete geek -- I could sing Mimi's "Out Tonight" at the top of my lungs and know that it wasn't Shirley Jones' "If I Loved You" from Carousel.

Rent still attracts Broadway audiences nightly, but move over...there's a new kid in town and its called: Spring Awakening and its on fire! I won't pretend I have a real opinion on the musical having not seen it (or heard the full score yet for that matter). I've heard clips on the show's official website, have an official Playbill...but don't know a whole lot more beyond what I've read. What I love the most about Spring Awakening is how much attention the show is bringing to Broadway. I love the energy of the young actors and singers as they literally jump around the stage (did anyone watch the Tonys?!) and look as if they are enjoying the hell out of their performance time. I love that Letterman had the cast on his show, someone like Duncan Sheik won a Tony Award and said, "Broadway rocks!" and that Zach Braff blogged about SA and declared on the telecast that he loves musical theatre. I suppose I have to get to New York soon to see Spring Awakening and judge for myself...then I can answer my own questions!


scmusicals said...

I'm curious to hear what you think after you see it. I saw it when I went to NYC in May...and I have to say...whatever causes people to proclaim Spring Awakening as a cutting-edge piece of theatre that will change the face of Broadway is lost to me. Especially the part where half the cast flips off the audience.

I guess this is just not for my generation...or now I'm just an old "fuddy duddy". I loved Rent...I thought the songs were thought-provoking and the characters were relatable. In SA, I see lyrics that don't exactly make sense or aren't really true to the characters.

But...I guess I don't have to agree with the American Theatre Wing's decision every year...

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