When PARK productions did The Rocky Horror Show a while ago they performed it at the CLO Cabaret on the set built for Boeing Boeing. While that sounds inconvenient it was actually a super fun production, because Rocky Horror has fun music, an absurd control over a crowd, and never takes itself too seriously. Cut to now, where a similarly-staged production of Spring Awakening is taking place on the set of First Date. Rocky and Spring are radically different shows in terms of content and tone, so could this staging method work a second time?
See Spring Awakening got all sorts of hype back in its day for being edgy and changing the way people looked at musicals (the Hamilton of 2007, if you will). It was based off Frank Wedekind’s controversial German play that premiered in 1907, a time it was fairly easy to be “controversial”. The point is, with themes of sexual repression, child abuse, suicide, and dangerous abortions, Spring Awakening takes itself incredibly seriously. The lives of Melchior, Moritz, Wendla, and others offer insight into how exciting yet terrifying adolescence can be.
When our show starts the two adult characters (who cycle through all adult roles as needed) stand upstage. The students all file in and line up on the stairs on either side, clutching folders. The opening scenes incorporate microphones and music stands, and the characters read from their folders. This lasts for a few minutes, making you think the entire show is going to be done like a staged concert as opposed to a play. However after the first “high-energy” number, “The Bitch of Living”, the students tear up their “scripts” and open the action up to other areas of the stage. However, the feeling of this being a concert never truly goes away. The boys (at this point all dressed identically) dance around the stage, more or less interchangeable from each other. Their dance moves involve a lot of gestures and stances you would find at a boy band concert. It’d be like watching One Direction sing about how hard their lives are; you can appreciate it but you’re also like “…really?”
Spring Awakening has an amazing score with really great rock-type songs that capture the characters’ frustrations, concerns, and fears. The company has some very gifted performers in it who definitely enjoy singing through said amazing score. But their excitement in performing these songs gives way to a lot of showboating. A lot of sassy riffs and singing lines up an octave are done all through the show, and ultimately it waters down the pain and angst the plot is trying to present. In Rocky Horror singing like that is welcome, because the show itself is silly and encourages noise. In something like Spring Awakening, though, it just seems odd.
Also, no one wore pants after the opening scene. The boys changed into some cutoff shorts which could also be mistaken for underwear. Whether it was an attempt to make them look more childlike or maybe just an excuse to have the actors show some leg, the end result was funny. Because not wearing pants is always funny. Watching Moritz tearfully confess his failing grades to his father while not wearing pants is funny. Seeing Melchior do anything romantic with Wendla while not wearing pants is also funny. Also everyone, boys and girls, wore the same identical slightly pink stockings. Sometimes Melchior would have one stocking rolled down, probably because he’s a free thinker so he stands out.
Spring Awakening is a great show that deals with the importance of teaching kids about sex and how strict religion can be harmful. However, this production seems to be more of a celebration of Duncan Sheik’s score and music. To be fair, in the unique “let’s do an after-hours show on the set of another show” setting there are bound to be some issues. But at the end of the night after the over-singing, the “angry” foot-stomping, and the audience of students hollering with delight, it’s hard to feel like this was anything more than a showcase. The show doesn’t seem to really be about Spring Awakening. It feels like it’s more about them. And they just happen to be singing Spring Awakening.
Special thanks to PARK Productions for complimentary press tickets. Spring Awakening has one more performance this Saturday night at 10:30pm at the CLO Cabaret. For tickets and more information, click here.