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It’s spring. And a young person’s fancy turns to – y’know – sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
At least in the justifiably popular Broadway musical, “Spring Awakening.” It explodes onto the stage at the Colonial Theatre with a first-rate touring company that captures what the late Spalding Gray called “the terrors of pleasure” in coming of age sexually.
It’s set in the turn-of-the-20th century in Germany, not the turn of the 21st-century in America. Yet despite all the differences between our too-much-information generation and the earlier repressive generations, the genius of this show is to narrow those differences to nothing.
The musical is based on the play of the same name, by bad boy Frank Wedekind, which Boston’s Zeitgeist Stage Company is reviving in a production as tepid as it is tedious.
Neither of those adjectives apply to the musical that’s so thrillingly brought to life you hardly know where to begin. Let’s start with an unlikely hero — the choreographer, Bill T. Jones — who animates the ensemble with a sensual punkishness that at once captures adolescent moodiness, sexual longing, teenage melancholy and boundless energy.
Imagine a row of teenage frauleins with hand-held microphones stomping in anger at their parents.
And let’s also give credit to director Michael Mayer and writer Steven Sater for rarely allowing the proceedings to flag.
Whether it’s a young student who suddenly whips a microphone out of his coat pocket before launching into song or a highly charged, explicit sex scene between the two leads, the stagecraft is sensational.
Speaking of the two leads, Christy Altomare as Wendla and Kyle Riabko as Melchior capture the agony and ecstasy of teenage love.
Take, for example, this exchange: "Melchior, no, it's just, it's just..." Wendla trails off. "What?" Melchior asks her. "Sinful?" To which Wendla responds, "No."
Well, we all know where that’s going to lead.
Wedekind knew there was something repressive in the air that would lead to the Germanic abominations of the 20th century. The musical is more concerned with not repeating those mistakes. If nature is going to take its course, maybe we can be a little smarter about guiding young people on that path.
The music by Duncan Sheik is solid , if a little too reliant on soft rock that verges on sentimentality.
But when the excellent ensemble gets going, it's easy to see why "Spring Awakening" has given the modern musical such a needed jolt.
“Spring Awakening” continues at the Colonial Theatre through May 24. The revival of the play is at the BCA through May 9.
Critic-at-large Ed Siegel reviews theater and the arts for WBUR's Morning Edition.
This program aired on May 1, 2009.
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