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Saturday, May 24, 2008


Ok, I admit I just might be obsessing...just a little. As stated in my previous post, I've had a change of heart about Spring Awakening since I saw it last week. Of course this means that I've been thinking about it quite a bit in particular to what it means to the legions of die-hard fans this musical has accumulated. While sitting in the theatre, surrounded by young girls (in particular) who were crushing on the likes of Jonathan Groff and admiring Lea Michele, I noticed how meaningful a show like Spring Awakening was to them. Around me, I watched and listened as these teenagers were clutching each other's hands, commenting to each other in private whispers about the performance, noticing the smallest of nuances each of the actors made and already making plans to see the show again. Behind me, a teenager brought her father to the show for the first time and during intermission, the two discussed the show, the performers and that back in the day the father's first rock musical was Jesus Christ Superstar. I was impressed by the energy flowing to the audience from the performers and back to the audience that night -- it was so strong that I could feel it. It seems that almost everyone in the theatre were there not just because they loved the show but because they loved both Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele and somewhere felt a powerful connection to them.

The Eugene O’Neill Theatre during the final performance for Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele was electric (though I did wonder if the energy level was like that every night).  After all, if the audience had not completely adored Lea Michele then they wouldn't have given her a standing ovation before she even sang her first note of Mama Who Bore Me nor would they have given the company a five minute standing ovation after Totally Fucked. I not only related to but joined in the impassioned enthusiasm as it wasn't that long ago when I was completely mesmerized by a performance, star-struck and able to adoringly critique a performance because I had seen it so many times.  I appreciated that young people could love the theatre so intensely -- it was as if Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele were these huge rockstars by the response they got from the 1,108 screaming fans in the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.

I think I now understand the impact this show has on young people from it's themes because there is one for everyone -- the pangs of growing up from being misunderstood, discovering your sexuality, abuse, suicide, parental pressures, feeling lost to finding yourself -- it was all there. There is not one person (I think) who can't relate to the show in some form. I think it brings forth a commonality to feel understood for these young people who are struggling to get through at least one or more of these issues. From these issues stem music that is of this generation and represents who they are -- with upbeat angry and frustrated rock-songs to slow ballads that are infused with such sadness. Perhaps I'm too old and cynical already to have understood that when the show first came out and was buzzing with incredibly positive press. Yet looking back to a show I could relate to, I understood Rent because it was the musical of my generation. I connected so fully to Rent even though none of the big issues really affected me or anyone I knew (i.e., the "bohemian" life style, struggling for art, AIDS, drugs) but because the show was so unique and represented my generation or era's struggles. For some reason though, I couldn't transfer that understanding to Spring Awakening.

It is because of people like me who haven't exactly been open to true change in musicals that might keep the genre stale. Its important to open your mind to what is new, what is fresh, what will expose new audiences and generations to the art form because change is inevitable and necessary. As much as I like old-fashioned structured musicals, there is more to the genre than just what was the Golden Age of Broadway. As special and important as that era was, it has become the foundation and the model for what makes for important musical theatre, it certainly doesn't mark the end of it. If I love musical theatre as much as I claim I do, shouldn't I be open to change, to the metamorphosis of a more developed show? Shouldn't I want to see the art-form reach more people, be more understood and advocate for this?  This doesn't mean that all musicals are good or that I believe in all new musicals for the sake of believing in them, but that shows and composers deserve a chance to be heard.  I think its time to stop being what I sometimes admit I am -- a musical theatre snob -- and be fair and open minded to new works.

I've always loved musical theatre for what its meant and done for me and because I am never more happy or peaceful than when sitting in a theatre watching (almost) any kind of musical (sorry Saturday Night Fever). I am sorry that I unfairly pre-judged Spring Awakening because I was wrong and now I have been forever affected by it.

It has been said of Spring Awakening: "once in a generation a new musical comes along that changes everything" and that "Broadway will never be the same" which is so true. This show brings forth pertinent and current issues plaguing teens and gets them to discuss it with their friends and families (there's even a parent's guide)! It also gives me hope to the changing landscape of musical theatre while now being the show's new enthusiastic advocate. Musical theatre needs to breathe new life and find change in order to stay fresh and current and I definitely think that Spring Awakening is doing just that.

In its simplest approach, shows are written to tell a story, connect people and be heard. A show is lucky to find any kind of a niche somewhere but to find quite a large one and be commercially successful while making a point and affecting the best of all worlds. I applaud Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater for writing such a significant show that has made even narrow-minded me (when it comes to change in theatre) take back what I once said and finally appreciate the truly extraordinary work they have accomplished.


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