Spring Awakening

It’s certainly not Mamma Mia!.

Sydney Theatre, Sydney
Sydney Theatre Company

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It’s certainly not Mamma Mia!.

There’s the first warning about the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Spring Awakening and whilst the edgy rock musical is certainly a breath of fresh air when it comes to musical theatre, it must be said that it is far from being as commercially viable as a traditional blockbuster with all the trimmings.

Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth producing nor does it mean it is not worth seeing.

The Sydney Theatre Company’s decision to produce the hit Broadway tuner, which combines elements of Frank Wedekind’s controversial play with a catchy and grungy score, is an absolute winner, though risky. After all, it is unlikely to appeal to mum, dad and the kids, but it certainly appeals to those ‘thinkers’ out there who have perhaps had to stick with straight plays to get this type of message on the stage.

In Australia, only smaller shows such as The Hatpin have pulled on the kinds of taboo subjects that modern commercial musical theatre tends to avoid. A jukebox finale is a much better option, it would seem. In fact, it is – when it comes to box office takings.

Spring Awakening dissects and discusses teenage sexuality through a variety of ways – everything from masturbation to rape, homosexuality and indeed true love. What happens when parents are so embarrassed or protective of their kids, that they don’t explain the urges young adults feel?

Abortion is touched on, too, in a way that shows the possibly tragic results of communication lapses. The work also exposes parents sheltering their kids so much that they become victims of a society their parents simply refuse to believe exists.

Somewhere along the line, the modern-day Spring Awakening finds some inspiration from events such as the Columbine High School shooting in the United States. Teenage expression, whether it be via guns, sex or some other means, is significant in the theme of this musical.

To a younger market, Spring Awakening as a musical certainly works and if the way young adults in the first few rows of the theatre on opening night reacted is indicative of Generation Y’s thoughts on this show, then it is certainly a production that will open the eyes of younger theatre-goers.

To an older market who has seen Wedekind’s confronting play, they may feel the translation from the classic form to the musical stage sees the story drop some significance. It’s a fair call – if you throw in a huge number of songs, it is likely some of the harshness and strength of the original text will be lost.

Performance wise, a relatively young and inexperienced cast does well, particularly Akos Armont as Moritz who delivers a wonderful, captivating performance, whilst Clare Bowen’s Wendla, whilst clearly lacking some theatrical technique, gets better as the show goes on and provides some real moments of joy for the audience. Bowen’s angelic look suits the innocence of her character exceptionally well.

Edward Grey, who is currently studying at WAAPA, is also a star on the rise, whilst the performances by older actors – Helen Dallimore and Berynn Schwerdt – add some depth and experience to the production.

If there is one criticism, it is that in some ways Geordie Brookman’s production is somewhat lacking in flair and colour, but if he was going for an edgy, almost black and white impact, he succeeds.

Spring Awakening is a powerful show with plenty of spark, and whilst it will not appeal to everyone, it is a fine production that sits well at the Sydney Theatre – a venue that should be used for more productions of this kind in the future.

Until March 7, 2010
Bookings: (02) 9250 1777

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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