Theater Reviews



Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles (Through Dec. 7)

Say what you will about sex, on Broadway these days nothing succeeds like sexual repression. Sex, after all, only liberates temporarily, but sexual repression allows an audience to feel enlightened -- I'm against it! -- all the way home.

That's the only way to explain those eight Tonys, including one for best musical, that "Spring Awakening" pulled in this year. Well, there is another explanation. This is a show designed to put young bodies into aging theaters, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. With a throbbing pop-rock score from Duncan Sheik, a mildly ingratiating book from Steven Sater (based on Frank Wedekind's daring 1891 play) and some kinetic staging from director Michael Mayer and choreographer Bill T. Jones, there are reasons for adolescents to sit through a story this predictable, bleak and simplistic.

Set in a provincial German town in the 1890s, "Spring" is your basic teenage disaster drama, with a little masturbation and metaphysics on the side. Wendla (Christy Altomare) is a naive, sweet young thing whose budding body and curiosity get no help from her strict, sharp-tongued mother (Angela Reed). Wendla doesn't even know where babies come from, or why, two facts of life bound to cause her distress.

A lot of distress, as it turns out, when she falls for Melchior (Kyle Riabko), a rebellious lad who returns her feelings and then some. The two have a curious sexual initiation scene, complete with whipping and a touch of S&M. The point isn't meant to be kinky (in the original play, Wendla is raped) but rather to illustrate the strange ways sexual repression and sexual ignorance can play out.

The third principal is Moritz (Blake Bashoff), Melchior's wild-haired friend who is the personification of adolescent confusion, guilt, shame and repressed anger. Poor Moritz has too many "sticky dreams" and other problems to contend with, and his fate isn't pleasant.

The show's real target, however, is the authoritarian, mean-spirited, hypocritical, bourgeois society responsible for the tragic lives on view. Henry Stram and Reed have the thankless task of representing all these unpleasant types, most of them parents and teachers, who ruin the lives of these innocent kids. After a while, the stereotypes tend to wear out their welcome, and unfortunately so does the show.

Cast: Christy Altomare, Kyle Riabko, Blake Bashoff, Angela Reed, Henry Stram, Sarah Hunt, Steffi D, Gabrielle Garza, Kimiko Glenn, Anthony Lee Medina, Andy Mientus, Ben Moss, Matt Shingledecker.
Book-lyrics: Steven Sater.
Music: Duncan Sheik.
Director: Michael Mayer.
Based on the play by: Frank Wedekind.