Spring Awakening – The Musical ****


A Lyric Hammersmith Production, London
Friday 23rd January 2009 – currently booking to 14th March 2009

Occasionally, a piece of musical theatre has the potential to unite a generation and to forever become associated with a certain time. The musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s nineteenth century play Spring Awakening, which opened on Broadway in 2006, finally, opens in London this month. The musical’s off-Broadway and Broadway run received critical acclaim, numerous awards and gained the support of a loyal, mostly young, fan base. A fan base similar, perhaps, to the loyal fans of previous generations’ musicals, such as Hair and Rent. Judging by the reception of the first preview night in London, Spring Awakening is set to be taken into the hearts of its UK audiences.

Admirers of Wedekind’s play may, justifiably, be sceptical of a musical version, as it would seem that the play is a strange choice to be turned into a musical. Musicals have the reputation for being overly sentimental and easily approachable to all manners of audience, two features that Wedekind’s play certainly does not have. Yet, this musical breaks all the standard rules of musical theatre, using influences from rock, indie and punk music, to tell the children’s tragedy element of Wedekind’s story and to bring it into the twenty-first century. Critics may also be worried about the survival of the early expressionist devices used in the play and how these transfer into the musical genre. Although, not all of Wedekind’s stylistic devices make it in to the musical, the creators clearly embrace the style and develop other stylistic features into the performance.

The original creative team, including director Michael Mayer, loyally brings the musical to London with a brand new British cast, the majority making their professional debuts. Aneurin Barnard’s Melchior is something special, portraying the rebellious, angst, atheist side of the character, as well as the intelligent and questioning realistic side. Equally impressive is Charlotte Wakefield’s authentic naive quality, which she brings to the character of Wendla, and her eyes that beautifully haunt every member of the auditorium. Swing, Richard Southgate took on the role of punk depicted Moritz, completing a trio of strong performers. The cast may be young, but the high standard of performance cannot be faulted and their rawness adds new layers to the production. Undeniably, the production strength relies on the success of the ensemble, who’s presence is felt for most of the production, and the on stage band. The music is infectious, not used by the characters to serenade each other or move the story on, but more like individual emotional explosions in each of character’s own heads. The rock, indie and punk music interrupt the nineteenth century world presented but allow for connections to be made between the characters of Wedekind’s world and the world of its audience.

Spring Awakening is perfectly created for its audience and will, mostly likely, be loved by a generation of theatre-goers. It is very much suited to the, off-west end venue, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, where it is currently booking to the 14th March, but it will, probably, have a further life in another UK theatre space.



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