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Review Sun Aug 09 2009

An Awakening for Any Season

Spring Awakening is a not-so-typical mashup of old school values, classic teenage struggle against the "parentocracy" and some pretty catchy pop rock tunes.

Spring Awakening takes place in a 19th century German town. Just as you might expect, sex -- marital, coerced or otherwise -- is never acknowledged.

The story follows two young lovers and along the way visits some pretty dark places including incest, rape and teen suicide.

Wendla (Christy Altomare) and Melchior (Jake Epstein) are young, wholesome teenagers who fall in love with each other hard and fast. Wendla is a popular girl at school and eager to please her mother and teachers. We first meet Malchior in a classroom, and soon understand that he is determined to question authority and test the limits of right and wrong.

The story also centers around Moritz (Blake Bashoff), who just can't seem to get anything right, from school to parents. His struggle to find his place in the world is the darkest and, in many ways, more relatable than the young couple's.

We get to know these three teenagers and their friends as they navigate many of the typical adolescent torment: OMG, who am I? and WTF, why can't they just leave me alone?

Spring Awakening's strength is its perspective. The audience joins these teens in their struggles from their perspective with adults about as unremarkable as Charlie Brown's teacher. At their worst, the adults are oppressive manipulators. At their best, they opt out of standing up for their kids. Henry Stram and Angela Reed play all of the adult characters and do an impressive job of slipping in and out of these Adult Men and Adult Women roles.

The musical performances make this show. It's at these times that characters address -- and do -- things they wouldn't otherwise even whisper. It's like these performances are their escape to talk about hot fantasies, masturbation and rape.

The choreography and songs hit most aspects of a teenager's identity: fear, rage, love and fun. Outrageous and high energy scenes like "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally Fucked" coupled with slow, sensual fantasy moments like "The Word of Your Body," the performances do a fantastic job of setting and directing the show's tone.

A lot of teen drama performances come off as whiny reruns. Spring Awakening, however, makes you feel for these teens. Never mind that sometimes it feels a little like "American Idol." These kids are pissed and they ought to be.

Spring Awakening is playing at the Oriental Theater in Chicago until Aug. 16. Get tickets here.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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