Spring Awakening

I was very excited when I heard Spring Awakening was coming to Stephens Auditorium this fall. I can still remember watching the 2007 Tony Awards, not knowing much of anything about the show, and seeing the reaction of the crowd every time it got nominated. And then, when the cast performed, I understood what all the fuss was about – this was a groundbreaking musical. This was something really different.

Spring Awakening ended up winning eight Tony Awards that night: best musical, book, score, direction, choreography, orchestrations, lighting design, and best featured actor in a musical (John Gallagher, Jr.). We were lucky enough to get tickets to see the show on Broadway a few months later, with the original cast still intact. I was thrilled! I would easily count it in my top five all-time favorite shows.

Two of the three original lead actors, Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff, have gone on to become famous for their roles in the popular TV show Glee. And Gallagher is currently the lead in the Broadway musical American Idiot. So the show had a lot of star power. In fact, I believe that every member of that young original ensemble cast could have sung the lead roles – it was such a great group of voices, and each character was so strong.

In the bus-and-truck version, which came through Ames Friday night, the voices were far less impressive. The cast was very young and, I learned afterwards, had only been performing together since September.

The show, set in late 19th century Germany, is about the sexual awakening and civil disobedience of a group of adolescent students. On Broadway, there are a few moments of humor, many moments of tragedy, and a lot of rock and roll.

The touring company, perhaps inadvertently, put far more emphasis on the humorous aspects of the musical. Or maybe it was the audience’s reaction — not knowing the tragic consequences that would ultimately befall the show’s young characters. Nevertheless, it was difficult to sit through the performance after seeing the true greatness of the original production.

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