From the mind that gave the world Lulu, came Spring Awakening, a tale of adolescent sexuality and adult depravity so feared and loathed by late nineteenth century German censors that the play was banned for decades. In the early years of the twenty first century, however, lyricist Steven Sater and composer Duncan Sheik returned Frank Wedekind's immoral masterpiece to the stage. In doing so, they made two controversial decisions: they kept the setting in late nineteenth century Germany but they moved the music and lyrics into early twenty first century America. The result is like setting Freud's Interpretation of Dreams not to music by Gustav Mahler but to music by Dashboard Confessional. For some critics, the result was nothing less than "an unexpected jolt of sudden genius" (Clive Barnes, The New York Post), but to other critics, this was nothing less than silly. Hearing one character sing "It's the bitch of living with nothing but your hand" in an ode to masturbation or "The thing that sucks -- okay? -- for me, a thousand bucks, I'm, like, scott free" in a suicide note seems more than mildly inappropriate; it seems wildly incongruous. Sater's lyrics might have worked had Sheik's music been anything more than derivative pop-schlock, but Sheik's tunes are unoriginal, his chord changes are simplistic, and his rhythms are plodding. The principals, Lea Michele as Wendla, John Gallagher Jr. as Moritz, and Jonathan Groff as Melchior, do what can be done with such lyrics and music -- they give it their all and try not to sound embarrassed -- but devoid of their context, the original sound track to Spring Awakening remains hard to sit through without laughing. Produced by Sheik, Decca's sound is close, dry, and empty.
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AllMusic Review by James Leonard
|Spring Awakening, musical|