IF YOU GO
What: Musical about 19th-century German schoolkids discovering sex
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday &Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 13350 Edison Parkway, Fort Myers
Cost: $65, $50, $40, $30; on-stage seating available for $25
Information: Call 481-4849 or go to bbmannpah.com
Content Warning: There is profanity, on-stage nudity and repeated references to sexually graphic subject matter. The show isn't crude but is likely NOT appropriate for PG audiences or the easily offended.
FORT MYERS — Don't let the boob, buns and F-bombs fool you. "Spring Awakening," playing through Sunday at the Barbara B. Mann, is the closest to unadulterated Broadway Southwest Florida is going to get on this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Part rock concert, part moody, adolescent allegory and all "oh-my-god-wow" entertainment, the show tosses out electrifying thrills like a new father passing out cigars.
"Spring Awakening" tells the story of a group of German schoolkids on the cusp of adolescence - "awakening" being a not-so-subtle reference to their hormones. Based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, the show rolls headlong through a meadow of controversial subjects: incest, homosexuality, masturbation, child abuse and suicide. There is on-stage nudity; two song titles feature words unprintable in this newspaper. None of that matters. None of it. The risqué subject matter serves as a subversive vehicle to deliver a message of hope - for life, for love and a better tomorrow.
Duncan Sheik, he of "Barely Breathing" fame, penned music for the show, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater. Little wonder then the show sounds - and plays - like a rock concert. The musicians - and some of the audience - sit on the open stage. A decorated back wall resembles a classroom with drawings, enigmatic paintings, objets, even butterfly wings. Chairs and tables form the only props - transforming into anything from classroom to bedroom to oak tree.
The male cast wears uniforms - precise uniforms - with wildly creative hair lacquered into place. The sole exception, forlorn Moritz (Taylor Trensch), has a mop that must make the stylist weep. Precision is the order of the day - for inventive dance routines up, around and over chairs like "The B**** of Living" and masturbation fantasy "My Junk."
"Spring Awakening" blends harmony and rhythm in inventive ways. The show slams one melody up against another repeatedly - an in-your-face illustration of the conflicts playing out on stage. Look for "Don't Do Sadness" and "Blue Wind" from Trensch and Steffi D (Ilse); two performers, two spotlights at stage left and stage right, two songs sung at the same time and one magical scene. Soulful opening ballad "Mama Who Bore Me" also gets an immediate reprise as a rousing girl-group thumper, playing old against new, generation against generation, classical against rock.
Primarily an ensemble-driven show, "Spring Awakening" comes blessed with leads - Trensh, Christy Altomare (Wendla) and Jake Epstein (Melchior) - who can sing down the house. Wendla opens the show on a bare stage, transitions to a comedy number with superb utility player Angela Reed and doesn't let up. Trensch and Epstein blend angst with rock-star confidence to carry the show forward with head-slamming momentum. Andy Mientus (Hanschen) also gets a laugh-out loud seduction scene in Act II.
Speaking of surprises, the lighting effects drew repeated gasps of amazement from the crowd. Dozens of bulbs hang from the theater roof, floating like blue fireflies, red moths or ethereal moons across the stage. Technical wizardry for sure - but also an artistic delight.
Criticisms? Again, as with many shows at the Mann, it was sometimes frustratingly difficult to hear the performers over and through the pulsating rock beat. The show's swing-for-the-fences intensity leaves some of the moodier pieces - Act I's "The Word of Your Body" - looking tame; meant to be a love song, it didn't connect.
"Spring Awakening" combines the best parts of a catchy musical with a great rock concert and adds a touch of titillating sexiness on top. The show is fun, full of energy and marvelous to watch; in short, it is the Broadway musical - reinvented for a brand new age.
MORE SPRING AWAKENING LINKS
Review: 'Spring Awakening' powerful, enthralling rendition of hit Broadway musical news-press.com, expires after 14 days
Review: A truly original new musical variety.com
Roundup of major "Spring Awakening" reviews broadwayworld.com