In 1906, Frank Wedekind shocked Germany with Spring Awakening, an angry drama about how a sexually repressed society mangles, even kills, young people. In the early years, the play was censored more than it was produced. But watching these loosely connected scenes about masturbation, homosexuality, child abuse, abortion and suicide — well, it's stunning to think it was ever performed at all.
A century later, a musical version opened on Broadway with a few eyebrow-raisers of its own. Not the content, but rather the creators — Duncan Sheik, an alt-rock figure who'd never written a musical score before, was making his Broadway debut, as was choreographer Bill T. Jones, a seminal figure in the modern-dance movement.
A touring version hit Pittsburgh in 2009. Now Pittsburgh Musical Theatre presents the premiere local production, with direction by Ken Gargaro and choreography by Colleen Petrucci. Both follow the blueprint set by the original production; there's enormous energy, and the show moves at a clip. But there are snags. For one, Gargaro directs his actors to push the material; the scenes of sexual awakening are played for nervous laughs — probably the opposite of what Wedekind had in mind — and the "drama," especially with the adult characters, is far too big and broad.
Meanwhile, a very energetic band under the direction of Tim Marquette attacks Sheik's score with plenty of power, providing ample backup to an exceptionally hardworking cast. And I'd say they're a terrific group of kids, except ... while I'm sure everyone's relatively the same age, they sure don't look it. Some appear to be in their early 30s, while others seem like tweens.
And this matters greatly, because in the love scenes you feel like you're watching Woody Allen's home movies. It's quite creepy. This is best personified by Logan Williams as Melchior — his Huck Finn face will come in very handy when he hits my age (and he's got a great voice). But his apple-cheeked pluck seems out of place here.
Jameson Talbot Corrie's got the vocal chops to make Mortiz's rage believable; Kathleene Queen's confusion as Wendla is very touching; and Adrianne Knapp unfurls a haunting voice on "The Song of Purple Summer."