Go see the musical version of Spring Awakening at the Colonial Theater if you’re a parent or a teacher or a teen, or if you’ve ever been one of those. This disturbing German play from 1891 is not exactly typical raw material for a musical, but it survives the transition admirably. As you probably know by now, Frank Wedekind’s original play was banned because of its themes and how they are presented. Sexuality, sex between young teens, teen suicide, abortion, unethical teaching and parenting, radical politics — even one of these would get a worked banned in late Victorian times, whether in England, America, or Germany — and the combination of all of them was surely so far over the top that there wouldn’t have been any doubt.
Today, of course, these topics aren’t shocking. I suppose that’s why the producers made no attempt to translate the play to modern times. The audience is always conscious of the time and the place, despite the presence of rock music — which somehow doesn’t seem out of place. One oddity is that they’ve cast a single actor to play all of the adult male roles, and another to play all of the adult female roles. I assume that this is trying to convey a message — something to the effect that the adults are all interchangeable, and only the kids have individual personalities. Fortunately it’s not as confusing as it might be, since the contexts are clear and the characters are often addressed by name.
Some bits of trivia: How often do you hear quadratic equations and lines from Vergil’s Aeneid mentioned in a musical? They probably didn’t register on most of the audience, but the math references were appropriate and the Latin class convincing (though terrifying). Also, I can’t find anyone else who was aware of this play in the ’60s, but I first became acquainted with it in 1966, when my roommate was reading it (in the original) for a college freshman German course. So I knew it as Frühlingserwachen, and it clearly made an impression on my impressionable roommate, who had a lot of related issues. For similar reasons, I thoroughly recommend it to my high-school students, most especially if they can later have an in-depth discussion with their parents and/or teachers. I was glad to hear that a couple of dozen Weston students will be going to see it next week on a field trip.