8 p.m. March 11 -12. 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sat., March 13. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun., March 14. Through Sun., March 14. $19-$55. Presented by Broadway Across America-Atlanta, Fox Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 1-800-982-2787. www.ticketmaster.com.
By Wendell Brock
Early into “Spring Awakening,” heartthrob Melchior ponders the origin of shame and comes to the conclusion that it is “nothing but a product of education.”
Rock on, dude. With his revolutionary 1891 drama, German playwright Frank Wedekind questioned society’s failure to deal with the bottled-up energy and sexual confusion of youth, and more than a century later, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik transformed the original text into a blistering, spiky-haired punk-rock Broadway musical about the chaos of young love.
Winner of a slew of Tony Awards, including the 2007 prize for best new musical, the anthem of adolescent angst arrived Tuesday at the Fox Theatre as raw, powerful and shocking as ever. While squeamish parents should be warned that the show is a frank, skin-revealing look at homosexuality, suicide, abortion and maybe a little drug use, it must also be noted that “Spring Awakening” is a tastefully dressed, highly literary tale that echoes Shakespeare and the Greek and Latin classics that are drilled into the heads of the German teenagers.
Beginning with Wendla’s solo, “Mama Who Bore Me,” sung by the lovely Christine Altomare, standing on a chair and pretending to look in a mirror, the story starts off quietly — and opening night seemed especially tepid, probably because Melchior was portrayed by understudy Matt Shingledecker, who is filling in all week for the vacationing Jake Epstein. But the minute Moritz (played here by the excellent Taylor Trensch) stamps his boot on the floor and Bill T. Jones’ frenetic, punk-manifesto-style choreography steps into high gear, the show finds its groove.
The tragic romance of Wendla and Melchior may be the bruised heart of the play, but it’s really Moritz’s tale. He’s the Hamlet to Wendla’s Ophelia and Melchior’s Horatio, an image that hits home when mourners toss flowers into the young suicide’s grave. Andy Mientus plays Hanschen as a vampire, all naughty in his nightshirt, lusting after his paramour Ernst (Ben Fankhauser) and slowly moving in for the kill. (Hanschen knows all about Achilles and Patroclus.) As Ilse, Steffi D is another standout, her Louise Brooks’-style bob lending her the air of a German cabaret chanteuse.
Angela Reed plays all the adult women, and John Wojda digs into all the adult male roles with brio.
Set designer Christine Jones has created a splendid 19th-century classroom, and audience volunteers who help can sit in bleachers on each side of the room, accompanied by ensemble members. Susan Hilferty’s costumes help tell the story of repression and desire. The guys’ knickers and jackets look fresh off the runway, and the girls’ diaphanous nightshirts are just as sexy.
“Spring Awakening,” as the title suggests, ends on a note of triumph and rebirth. After the darkness and despair, “The Song of Purple Summer” brings the promise of fresh, dewy beginnings.