Curiocity: Beyond Alert At ‘Spring Awakening’

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Spring Awakening, Curiocity review, orpheum theatre

Spring Awakening, the eight-time Tony Award-winning musical, will return to Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Orpheum Theatre for a limited engagement of two performances only. The final performance is 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010. Tickets are on sale now. (credit: Joan Marcus)

Sara Boyd Sara Pelissero
Sara Pelissero joined the WCCO web team in August of 2009. You can...
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It’s been about three hours since I saw “Spring Awakening” Saturday night at the Orpheum Theatre and yet — I’m still not sure what to say about it.

I know I liked it –- correction, I know it affected me. I know the music was great, the performers were phenomenal but it’s the storyline that still gets me a little caught up. I find myself still thinking about certain messages this musical was sending, still processing certain lines within the script. I suppose that’s part of the point.

Honestly, after the first act of “Spring Awakening” I wasn’t sure what to think, except that the people who brought their small children should probably be regretting that decision. Besides on-cue self-pleasuring, a request for spanking that went beyond a five-finger slap and a sex scene that could’ve made a porn star blush a little, it was a lot to take in (ahem, no pun intended.)

The setting is basically the polar opposite of the emotions pouring out of the tormented, hormonal youth on stage. Picture 19th century Germany, a place where the word “strict” barely tells the half of it. Where lines are not drawn, they’re engrained –- cross them and there’s no coming back to the other side. It’s a place where questions are brushed aside if they challenge tradition and being proper, poised and astute are the only options.

It’s hardly the place where you’d expect a rebellious atheist teen and a young brutally naïve girl to find love. But they do –- and they soon find it’s not as easy as simply feeling the emotions.

Wendla, played brilliantly by Elizabeth Judd, is that young, unadulterated fresh face, just looking for some kind of thrill. She rediscovers a childhood friend named Melchoir, incredibly played by Christopher Wood, and discovers that finding that thrill is more exhilarating and hazardous than she could’ve ever known. Moritz, played by Coby Getzug, (by far, my favorite character) is Melchoir’s best friend, who in his own naïve way finds out the hard way that making it through the teenage years is, er, a “female dog.”

The show truly deals with every possible category of pure and simple adolescent angst — the emotional changes, the physical changes, the feelings you can’t describe (and the ones you would never want to), the feeling that this is it, that everything and nothing matters at the same time and the awkward stages that no one truly expects to make it through, plus the scars still left behind years later.

One thing that initially caught me off guard but eventually grew to be one of my favorite things about this show was the use of handheld microphones. Yes, most musicals — this one included — use the flesh-toned headgear microphones, with the entire point being that the audience shouldn’t be able to see them. Here, characters rip microphones from their coat pockets, use them as a stage prop and enter a new dimension when one is held. The microphone becomes its own character on stage, one that changes both the tone and the attitude of the performer clenching its bulky body.

It’s true — I’ve definitely never seen a musical quite like “Spring Awakening.” And I’m still not sure if that’s good or bad, but I do know it was quite a ride. The range of emotions this musical is able to yank out of its audience is definitely beyond imagination. You’re laughing but a second later, you’re deeply depressed. A moment of heartwarming romance turns quickly into seat-squirming awkwardness and then back again.

It’s a refreshing change of pace from what you typically think of when you hear the word “musical.” My boyfriend argued musicals are supposed to be uplifting and make you smile — not leave you with a desire to jump off the next available bridge. I understand that argument and I can agree that the point of seeing a musical is to have an enjoyable, two-hour-plus journey that makes you forget about the rest of the world for a moment.

But I also argued theater that impacts you, hits you in a place that lingers far longer than is comfortable and forces you to dissect what you’ve watched in order to fully understand it, is irreplaceable. “Spring Awakening” is that show.

“Spring Awakening” has its final performance in Minneapolis at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 7 at the Orpheum Theatre. Tickets are available and range from $15 to $60.

Sara Boyd is web producer and columnist at WCCO.COM.
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