Finally “Spring Awakening,” the Tony- Award-winning musical that made such a splash on Broadway, has begun its national tour right here in San Francisco. The show opened Sept. 7 to a packed house at the Curran Theater.
Based on the controversial play by Frank Wedekind, this musical integrates the story of a group of teenagers growing up in 1890s Germany with the contemporary musical styles of today. The play features teenagers on the brink of adulthood struggling to understand the changes of their bodies and questioning the norms that have been imposed on them by their parents and teachers.
The beautiful Christy Altomare starts off the show with the haunting ballad “Mama Who Bore Me” as her character Wendla explores the curves of her new, maturing figure. Like any 14 year-old, she is going through some confusing changes. Wendla is eager to understand her womanhood, but her mother would be just as happy to have her believe in the stork for the rest of her life. While the opening number sounds more like musical theater, the next number shatters expectations. Wendla and her friends break out into a reprise of “Mama,” only this time it is performed as an up-tempo rock song by an angst-ridden girl band.
Next, we meet the male ensemble of the show. This group of boys on the brink of manhood are plagued by Latin homework and the types of late-night dreams teenage boys usually have. As Melchior, Kyle Riabko stands out as the strongest member of the cast. One could even say he exceeds the standard set by the original Melchior on Broadway. Riabko acts the part of the intellectual revolutionary with great charm and delivers emotionally and vocally, especially in “Left Behind.”
One ne’er-do-well student, Moritz (Blake Bashoff), is especially troubled by “legs in sky-blue stockings” that keep him from sleeping at night and staying awake in class. Bashoff successfully captures the comedic aspects of the character, taking a lot of his cues from John Gallagher Jr. who originated the role on Broadway. As a singer, Bashoff manages to set himself apart by approaching the challenging vocals with a more refined sound.
It’s not just this trio of lead characters who have trouble handling their awakened sexuality and maturing selves. The show has a vivid cast of characters that deal with topics such as masturbation, rape, homosexuality and of course, love. Touching ballads like “The Word of Your Body” illustrate the naïveté and longing of adolescence. And numbers such as “Touch Me,” “The Mirror-Blue Night” and “Totally F—–” give the whole ensemble the chance to voice their frustrations, questions and desires not only through song, but through the choreography of Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones. Jones’ choreography has the actors exploring the new forms of their maturing bodies and jumping and stomping out their frustrations like angry rock stars.
Steven Sater’s lyrics are poetic and abstract in the sense that they don’t always directly relate to the action on stage in a literal way. The songs reinterpret the action into musical numbers that could just as easily be understood outside the context of the play. The actors perform with handheld mics and stands, as if their characters were stepping out of the reality of the play and becoming rock stars. A band plays on stage rather than in a pit, heightening the rock concert feel of the show, even if the sound is a little harder to control and sometimes overpowers some of the singers.
An on-stage audience offers a unique experience for theatergoers. On either side of the stage there are small bleachers with chairs for about 30 people. The music is happening around you, and the action is literally presented a few feet away from you.
Whether or not you consider yourself a fan of musical theater you don’t want to miss this groundbreaking show.
“Spring Awakening” will be running at
the Curran Theater until October 12 with shows playing Tuesday through Sunday every week. For more ticket information
and show times visit