Sydney Theatre Co.
Runs until March 7.
Spring Awakening is a musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 play about teenage experience and sexual awakening. Writer Steven Sater and musician Duncan Sheik gave the play an indie rock update, while keeping Wedekind’s story about a troupe of pubescent teens roughly in the same social setting, of slightly puritanical countryside Germany in the late 19th century. Strangely, it works.
Sheik has a successful career as a singer-songwriter, and the songs are actually good – besides having awesome names like ‘The Bitch of Living’ and ‘Everything’s Fucked’. Sater manages to nicely tread the line between moments of genuine pain, dealing with topics like incest, abortion and suicide – and moments of carefree youth and humour.
This Australian production takes the Sater/Sheik version, and marries it with brilliant, intuitive choreography, by Force Majeure’s Kate Champion. The result bristles with youthful energy and is quite unlike any musical you’ve ever seen.
It’s also been cast wonderfully, from open auditions across Australia, with a range of performers who easily carry off being teens, and who manage to traverse the often disjunctive transitions from speaking to singing with ease. It feels altogether authentic – like the content and its rock dressing are completely integrated, rather than one slapped on top of the other.
There is a catch, however; Wedekind’s play is arguably a lot darker than this Broadway show; what he portrays as a rape, Sater transposes to a night of irrepressible lust. Wedekind’s play was still funny, but it was a far more complicated beast, composed of the irreverent and the earnest; the playful and the serious; the innocuous and the poisonous. Sheik and Sater, who have been credited with reinventing the musical as a genre, haven’t really changed the ultimately sunny outlook that makes Broadway a multi-million-dollar industry.
So STC’s Spring Awakening is a great production and hard to fault on any level – but the suspicion that they have subverted the spirit of Wedekind’s play puts a dampener on it.