Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Awakening at the Van Wezel

It's official--I'm no longer a New Yorker!  Last week-end (quite aptly, on the first day of spring) I went to a touring company production of the hit Broadway show Spring Awakening.    The show won eight Tony awards when it premiered in 2007, including Best Musical, so when the tour's itinerary included a stop in Sarasota, I decided to check it out.    

All I knew about the play going in was that it was a rock musical and had something to do with German teenage kids.  The advertisements for the show included cautionary language that there would be profanity, partial nudity and adult content.   The play from which Spring Awakening was adapted was banned after a few performances in Germany due to its portrayal of themes such as abortion and suicide.  This was in the 1890s, though, and times have changed.  The partial nudity consisted of two scenes in which you saw the well-toned rear end of one of the cast members--nothing that you haven't seen on TV or in the movies.  (Remember how controversial it was when Dennis Franz' derriere made its appearance on NYPD Blue?)   And the profanity was incorporated into the play in a way that was natural and funny.  In fact, one of my favorite songs of the evening was entitled "Totally F****d."

All of the actors had strong voices and the band (which sat onstage) was really good.  Elizabeth Judd and Aliya Bowles, who played Wendla and Martha, respectively, were particular stand-outs.  I was surprised to hear one woman say that she thought Bowles played a better Martha than the woman who played the role in Tampa.  I had assumed that touring companies have a single cast that gets on a bus after the performance and heads off to the next location.  Apparently, this is not the case.  Knowing this makes the performance even more impressive.  There was really no indication that these actors had not performed together for an extended period of time.  

One interesting note on the staging that was different than in the Broadway run.  (I checked with a friend who saw it on this point!)    A small area of tiered seating was set up on each side of the set (which was quite cool--it looked like a coffee house with exposed brick walls and interesting photos and art).   As I made my way to my seat, I jokingly said to the ushers that my seat was on the stage--little did I know that some audience members actually would find themselves sitting up there!   It didn't turn out to be such a good idea on this occasion, however.  At one point during the first act, one of the actors suddenly said, "Is there a doctor in the house?"   It took a couple of minutes for the audience to realize that this was not part of the production (it wouldn't have made sense but it still takes some time to process) and that medical attention was required by one of the audience members sitting on the stage.  It turned out to be nothing serious--she probably felt faint from the hot lights on the stage--but the play was stopped for a few minutes so the actors could regroup.  I have to say that they maintained their composure, picking up easily where they left off after the unexpected break, and that the show was none the worse for the excitement.

All in all, it was quite an enjoyable evening.  If this is the caliber of performer and production that goes on tour, Broadway doesn't actually seem quite so far away!

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