Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Spring Awakening – A New Musical

Book & Lyrics by Steven Saterspring awakening national tour chicago

Music by Duncan Sheik

Based on the play by Frank Wedekind

Directed by Michael Mayer

Music Director Jared Stein

Choreography by Bill T. Jones

Produced by Broadway in Chicago

At Oriental Theatre

Innovative break-through 21st Century musical soars with intensity,  lush harmonies, and silky melodies.

Spring Awakening, the winner of six 2006 Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score, arrives finally in Chicago as part of the National Tour.  I must admit that I’m not a lover of rock oriented musicals–BUT–Spring Awakening is so much more than a run-of-the-mill rock musical–it is a major break through musical that most effectively uses pop/rock music to enhance storytelling by underscoring the themes, moods and emotions of the piece. I loved this show!


I was overwhelmed by the terrific orchestrations and the variety of punk rock and pop music  created by the talented Duncan Sheik with the darker, angst-ridden lyrics by Steven Sater. Maybe for the first time, I could hear and understand the lyrics and I could feel the emotions due to the fantastic score that was easy to listen to (Brian Ronan’s sound was excellent and not too loud).  I believe that Sater, Sheik and director Michael Mayer have solved the artistic problem of making pop/rock music work with older scripts by having the songs, using gently rhythms, multi-voiced harmonies, to create hauntingly emotional ballads and stirring anthems that added depth to the story. Bill T. Jones’ choreography is innovative utilizing MTV styled arm and head movements, brisk running and jumping with synchronized group movements that sprang from the mood of the story. Add the effective lighting by Kevin Adams with the smooth on-stage band and Spring Awakening unfolds as a most spirited and artsy musical.


Based on the 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, set in Germany in a rural, conservative era, Spring Awakening tells the timeless story of teenage self-discovery and budding sexuality as seen through the eyes of three teenagers.  Filled with suppressed sexuality due to ignorance and parental shame, this dark story depicts the generation gap conflicts sparked by teenage rebellion and their search for individuality fueled by ranging hormones.


Spring Awakening cleverly, and most effectively, moves from the 1890’s Germany to contemporary time using the pop/rock music and exquisite lighting to make the transitions back and forth work. We relate to and empathize with Wendla (Christy Altomare), Melchoir (Jake Epstein) and Moritz (Blake Bashoff).  The folks have terrific, clear and articulate, voices that exude angst and frustration of growing up. You’d be hard pressed to hear a finer sung musical. All the voices were outstanding. The passion, power and poignancy is so thrilling and so truthful that it will make an indelible lasting impression into your psyche.


Spring Awakening displays the tough side of coming of age with depictions of male masturbation, homosexuality, explicit sex acts and the reaction of parents. It pits the shame of religion, the ignorance of teens, and prudishness of parents  against one another to create life shattering events. Spring Awakening musically brings the universal angst of teenagers deftly with style, loads of heart and skilled theatrical craft. Spring Awakening is an art piece that anyone wishing to incorporate contemporary pop/rock music into a musical needs to study in detail. One of  ingredients is to keep the sound low enough to let the lyrics be heard as well as  casting singers who can enunciate enough to be understood.  Spring Awakening’s innovative style will influence future Broadway shows for the better. See this show–you’ll be amazed with its energy and stage craft.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000,, tickets $25 – $95, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7:30, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through August 16, 2009

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