`Spring’ has sprung

In honor of this week’s vernal equinox, I want to sing the praises of my latest musical theater obsession: Spring Awakening.

Having been a Duncan Sheik (below, left) fan from the moment I listened to his first album (1997’s Duncan Sheik), I was anticipating greatness when I heard that Sheik and his frequent songwriting partner, Steven Sater(below, right), were working on a musical. I liked what the two had done with Sater’s Nero (Another Golden Rome) at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre last year, but that was really more of a play with music than a full-on musical.

When Spring Awakening opened last summer at the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York, I was thrilled by the positive buzz but unsure that any new musical of quality, especially a brainy one based on a late-19th-century drama by Franz Wedekind, would surely be a commercial disaster.

I’m so happy I was wrong. Spring Awakening triumphed at the Atlantic and moved to Broadway in December, and, perhaps best of all, the cast recording was released on Decca Broadway.

Here’s a clip of the Broadway cast singing “Touch Me” from last month on “The View” (Rosie O’Donnell is a HUGE fan of the show).

The album is a Duncan Sheik/show tune fan’s dream. Sheik’s inimitable sound infuses almost every track, but the voices of the young cast (they’re all 20 or younger) are stunning. Some of the male voices even sound like Sheik from time to time, and the opportunity to hear the “Sheik” sound sung by women is heavenly.

I read the Wedekind play to get a better idea of what I was listening to and was surprised just how out there this 1891 play really is with its frank depiction of represeed German teenagers exploring sex and their bodies and being punished for it. In the play we get suicide, abortion, child abuse and even a little homosexuality. Frankly, after reading the play, I still wasn’t sure how the decidedly pop-rock music worked in the show.

Then I saw a bootleg DVD of Spring Awakening, filmed by a ballsy audience member when the show was still at the Atlantic (I know, I know, bootlegs are wrong, but sometimes you just can’t get to New York). Suddenly I got it. The songs are the contemporary link to all the angst and passion of the century-old story. Sater’s adaption of the play is pretty faithful to Wedekind (mercifully streamlined), and the songs (Sater’s lyrics, Sheik’s music) are happening now, and comment on the play and on the characters’ inner thoughts and feelings.

The CD, as brilliant as it is, doesn’t convey nearly the level of energy on stage, which is heightened enormously by Bill T. Jones’ choreography and the performances by the tremendously appealing cast. But the CD is fantastic (beautifully produced by Sheik), and it’s a step forward for the “rock” musical because it’s not trying too hard. It rocks when it needs to and gets introverted and intimate when it needs to. The score is passionate and painful and moving. Tony Awards, please, for Sheik and Sater. Best of all, the music sounds like something teenagers might actually listent to without pandering to trendy tastes or apologizing for being show music.

I’m going to see Spring Awakening in April. I just hope the real thing is as good as the version in my head. I’m guessing it will be.

Here’s the cast in a video for “The Bitch of Living.”

Visit the official Spring Awakening Web site here.

5 thoughts on “`Spring’ has sprung

  1. I really like Duncan Shiek’s newest single “On a High.” I can’t wait to hear more about his new musical. The songs sound fantastic!

  2. Hi I was looking to find a Spring Awakening bootleg… would you be willing to share/sell a copy of yours or tell me where you found it? I’ve seen the show twice and I love it! Email me at notyetonbroadway@aol.com
    Thanks so much

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