Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Awakening @ the Winspear

[Warning: this post is well out of the strikezone for this blog, but occasionally I include random musings and other eccentri in this space such as this particular diversion into New Age Philosophy, Generational Studies, and Techno. Weird huh?]

Straight forward comments and details first, followed by the rabbit hole of the mind.

Last night, I had the chance to have dinner in the Arts District at Screen Door in One Arts Plaza, which was ok, but given the similar price without achieving similar flavors I would call it a poor man's Bar Americain. Afterwards, we went to the Winspear Opera House to catch the local swing of the Broadway production of Spring Awakening.

First, I would like to say that I found it impressive how many people we ran into that we knew. Also, how lifeless and almost awkward the landscape and the entry/exit experience is in general in the Arts District. The landscape is incredibly arbitrary and haphazard at best and a general nuisance at worst. It was almost surreal after the show to watch as everybody blocked the exits to wait for the elevator/escalator to take them into the subterranean garage where the mole people could finally be happy once again. I know it is pretty much common knowledge by now, and these were mistakes sewn decades ago, but the clustering of these facilities (and its associated parking) really dilutes the power and life-giving properties of any one of them.

As for the actual musical which the majority of this post will be about, you can find a more seasoned and expert review of it here at Pegasus News:
Spring Awakening is not the musical for the closed-minded, stuffy, old, stiff generations that cannot handle nudity and profanity. This is a musical that displays graphic honesty in showing how we all reacted when we were teens and dealing with sexuality, sex, love, religion, parents, and the restrictions that society imposed on us. Those are all the elements in Spring Awakening that make it such a preeminent piece of musical theater.
Now I wouldn't go so far as to give it an A+ as the writer above did, but I don't have the musical background suitable for comparison. However, if I were to rate it within my own canonical criteria, I would give it a 2 out of 3 on the following scale:
3 out of 3 - Life Altering. You may come across a handful of movies, literature, music or other canon throughout the course of your life that truly and profoundly alters the way you think.

2 out of 3 - Worth Experiencing. Good but not profound. This is where I slot the majority of the DVD's, books, itunes library that I own. As I stated, this is also where I put Spring Awakening.

1 out of 3 - These are things that might be guilty pleasures, are overtly simple in their construct, or chick flicks that your girlfriend dragged you to see (which in some cases could be all of the above), but all have elements or are constructed expertly enough to find something worthwhile.

0 out of 3 - Not on your life. If you happened to have seen them, you are worse off for it and you are forgiven for walking out of the theater, shutting off the dvd player, and scolding whoever provided the suggestion in the first place. Michael Bay and Zack Snyder movies go here [still can't get the stench of 300 out of my mind].
What I did find incredibly interesting about the musical and the play it was based on, was that it was originally written (and subsequently set) in 1891 Germany, which is what I plan on exploring further. The review mentioned above alludes to the historical perspective I'm getting at:
Now, I will admit I did miss the foreshadowing that resulted in the New York casting of "Hanschen." In the original, the actor was blonde and blue-eyed, giving him an aura of the future German "Aryan" race. This being 1890, and the boy who played "Ernst" looked slightly Jewish, it was harrowing foreshadowing of what was to come. Nonetheless Hager and Fankhauser were both outstanding in their performances here.
I would like to use the serious statement above to outline my biggest annoyance with the production. Given the context of the play and its setting as well as the character names, I found it profoundly distracting when the production instantly jumped into time into a more contemporary forum.

The most egregious of which, is the song around the middle of the second act, where the full cast is involved, many on the stairs at the front of the stage performing a hyperactive en vogue-ish dance on a red bull and ritalin cocktail to happy hipster punk-like (or -light?) music. The reviewer above even paid special attention to the ballads which were quite moving and revelatory in terms of characterization.

It was so out of place that I couldn't help but have a Hot Fuzz "Love You, Love You" moment. Of course, this wasn't such an affront as to find it acceptable to behead those at fault and stage the most horrific traffic collision ever seen for the greater good.

In short, I think I would have preferred either a fully modernized/Americanized version or to remain more true to the source material. The hybridization was unnecessary for us to understand the potential parallels in history. In the end, the time warp was jarring, unnecessary, and distracting. We are smart people. We have read Twain and understand that history never repeats but often rhymes.

I think I find this one instance so irritable because of the historic background and time in which the play was written and set. 19th century Germany was a veritable cauldron of intellectual foment, but (and perhaps in reaction) it was also the protean stage of Nazism in Germany. It was written shortly after Wagner had died and Nietzsche had gone mad. While Neitzsche may have castigated Wagner's own bigotry, I'm the same guy who wrote a college paper blaming Neitzsche and his uber-man for the widespread belief in arian superiority.

I found the importance of the musical wasn't so much in the overt sexuality, but in the censorship and refutation by those incapable or uncomfortable with 'that of the other,' of individual expression and exploration, and essentially its documentation of the formative years of eventual Nazi party members. In the first act, before I knew any better it struck me as unhappy hipster tale as written and perceived by a GenX playwright. The fact that it wasn't, its setting, was the most fascinating element to me. The irony of the play itself being censored is enough for martyrdom.

Next time we think about what the wacko Texas School Board does or superficially attempt to build a City for the "Creative Class," we should keep in mind every little piece of minutiae we legislate, adding to the Rube Goldberg machine of Bureaucracy. See the Build a Better Block project and its subsequent shutting down by police. They knew what was going to happen, but they did it anyway in order to point out some of the unnecessary, antiquated, and suppressive nature of the current Dallas zoning code. The quote by cops that "roads are for cars" is telling about the inner conflict of a city that wants a creative city, but undermines it by constructing the entire city's genetic code around car movement.

But, back to Spring Awakening and censorship. In the age of the internet, an outlet for democratic expression, the best and only censorship is unpopularity. Fortunately, despite my personal annoyances, this musical had enough going for it (particularly the voice of whoever played Ilse) to make it quite popular and relevant. And worth seeing. 2/3.