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A CurtainUp London London Review
Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening transfers to Londonís West End
Making a triumphant and fully-justified transfer into the West End, the much-acclaimed Spring Awakening now reaches a larger audience without sacrificing the energy and emotion which marked its conquest of spectators at its previous, smaller venue.

Its international success so far has been crucially served by two outstanding qualities. Firstly, it is one of those rare musicals where the music is really rather good and secondly, the production is one-sided and polemical but still successful. The teenage stars struggle with their stifled emotions of adolescent extremity and express their anger and desire in outrageous rock songs. Whilst they are helpless in the face of angst, hormones and the suppression of a strict society, the all-powerful adult world is held entirely to blame for their sufferings. Cleverly suggesting the facelessness of the unfeeling adults, all the grown-ups are played by just two actors.

At times raucously fun and at others heartbreaking, the onstage "garage band" adds to the musicalís vitality and intense feeling with all the immediacy of live, visible musicians. The sheer style of the piece with its impressive staging, cool lighting and creative design, provides an inspired, contemporary aesthetic. Add to this mix a young cast with hitherto undiscovered talent and everything to prove, and we have a world-class new musical with quirky innovation and a deservedly bright future.

Cast and credits as at the Lyric Hammersmith
Box Office: 0844 482 5171
Booking to 31 October 2009
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge on 7th April 2009 performance at the Novello Theatre, Aldwych WC2 (Tube: Charing Cross)

Original review by Lizzie Loveridge

Those you've known and lost still walk behind you
All alone, they linger till they find you
Without them, the world grows dark around you
And nothing is the same until you know that they have found you.
— Verse from song "Those You've Known"
Spring Awakening
Cast in the schoolroom
(Photo: Helen Maybanks)
Just as it closes in New York Spring Awakening bursts onto the London stage like a stylish breath of fresh air. We had heard it was good from the reception in New York but were completely unprepared for the bizarre mix of rock ballads, Frank Wedekind's banned play from the Naughty Nineties and the quirky design. Like Elyse Sommer in New York I was wowed by the fabulous lighting with its use of red and blue neon strips out into the auditorium, great lighting shifts between scenes to delineate changes of mood and the hanging bulbs creating starlight. The brick wall set with its ladders up the wall to give the characters different levels to hang out on is effective but I'm not so sure about the audience ranked either side of the stage which made me think I'd walked into the set for Jerry Springer the Opera.

The boys at their strict school wear the uniform navy knickerbockers which look as if they could make a fashion comeback and I was delighted at the way, sitting on stools, they would coyly put a hand into their tight jackets to reveal a discreetly concealed, hand held phallic microphone. It's very camp and great theatre. I do hope the hair stylists have received an award for creating real hair straight out of the drawings of Victorian nursery books, Shock Headed Peter or Billy Bunter. The girls, who do not get educated at an exclusive Gymnasium as the boys do, manage to look more like a real, ill assortment of gawky teenagers than the cosmetically enhanced, artificially expertly coiffed teenagers from High School the Musical. The storyline too is without saccharin with its in-yer-face exposé of sexuality and sexual awakening. Even in the enlightened twenty first century I found the scene when Wendla asks Melchior to beat her with a strap rather strange and risqué. Some of the scenes of sex onstage and masturbation may be a little explicit for the younger teenagers so parents be warned, Granny may not like it. It is also disturbing to watch the terrible child abuse Martha (Hayley Gallivan) is subjected to by her family.

Many of the talented London cast are making their professional debuts but their inexperience is never apparent. What I did find remarkable were the wonderful voices of the three principals, Aneurin Barnard as Melchior, Iwan Rheon as Moritz and, bearing such a physical resemblance to Harry Potter's Hermione, Emma Watson, is Charlotte Wakefield as Wendla. Aneurin Barnard with his appealing eyes and curly locks could be a young Rufus Sewell and will surely bag as many hearts as his lookalike elder. Jamie Blackley with unreal bleached locks (think plastic blonde hair) enjoys his role as the comedic, extremely (Swiss) German, homosexual Hanschen. Sian Thomas is strict and malicious as the women adults, that is unless she's showing her corsets as the fantasy piano teacher and Richard Corderey is stuffy and unpleasant as all the men. I should have read the programme first as I was confused as to how Sian Thomas could be mother to both Melchior and Wendla which could have put incest on Wedekind's list of sexual improprieties!

The choreography in the schoolroom is fun as chairs are arranged for the boys to jump off, high and sassy. If I have a criticism, I would have liked more rock numbers and a tad fewer ballads. I think because Spring Awakening is so very stylised I had a problem with the suspension of disbelief in getting involved in the tragic story but there are definitely touching moments but it is a roller coaster ride of high comedy and terrible sadness. The zippers on Sian Thomas's costume are out of period as zippers on clothing weren't common until the 1930s.

The run at the Lyric has been extended by two weeks to mid March but they have other shows programmed to come in after that. Spring Awakening has had fabulous reviews from the vast majority of the critics but needs to find a niche theatre for a transfer. I wonder what Wedekind would have made of it?

Check the review of the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions in New York for further plot details and a song list

Spring Awakening
Music: Duncan Sheik
Book & Lyrics: Steven Sater, from Frank Wedekind's play
Directed by Michael Mayer
Choreographer: Bill T. Jones
Music director: Kimberly Grigsby

Starring: Aneurin Barnard, Iwan Rheon, Charlotte Wakefield, Sian Thomas, Richard Cordery
With: Evelyn Hoskins, Natasha Barnes, Hayley Gallivan, Lucy Barker, Edd Judge, Jamie Blackley, Harry McEntire, Jos Slovick, Chris Barton, Natalie Garner, Mona Goodwin, Jamie Muscato, Gemma O'Duffy, Richard Southgate
Set Design: Christine Jones
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Sound Design: Brian Ronan
Fight Director: J. David Brimmer
Orchestrations: Duncan Sheik
Vocal Arrangements: AnnMarie Milazzo
Additional Arrangements: Simon Hale
Music Director: Nigel Lilley
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes including one interval
Booking to 14th March 2009
Box Office: 0871 22 11 729
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge on 9th February 2009 performance at the Lyric Hammersmith, King Street, London W6 (Tube: Hammersmith)
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