Spring Awakening

Atlantic Theater Company (see Off Broadway). Book and lyrics by Steven Sater. Music by Duncan Sheik. Dir. Michael Mayer. With ensemble cast.

THE KIDS ARE ALL WRONG Groff and Lea Michele get into trouble.

THE KIDS ARE ALL WRONG Groff and Lea Michele get into trouble. Photo: Monique Carboni

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, a bleak 1891 drama of adolescent sexuality scorched in the bud, was so devastatingly honest that it was destined to be deemed ahead of its time. And although time has caught up, Wedekind’s critique of sexual repression—with its frank depictions of masturbation, homosexuality and abortion—feels freshly vital in the age of abstinence pledges and moral majoritarianism. Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s dark, pulsing new musical adaptation of Spring Awakening manages the seemingly impossible task of staging teenage taboos without inspiring giggles. Its pubescent subjects have little in common with, say, Bye Bye Birdie’s chirpy teens; they are authentically complicated, full of lust and resentment and radical navet.

Rock music, whose arrested Dionysian posturing has limited its dramatic effectiveness in the past, is perfect for the inchoate romanticism and sullen anger of the young characters who sing it here. (The actors pull out handheld mikes when shifting into song.) Sheik’s refreshingly unironic tunes dig the show into an intense, moody groove that is admirably sustained by director Michael Mayer and choreographer Bill T. Jones, whose work reaches a spasmodic crescendo in the aptly titled number “Totally Fucked.” (At times, the staging smartly recalls Pink Floyd’s The Wall.) Jonathan Groff, as the toppled golden boy Melchior, and John Gallagher Jr., as his screwup of a best friend, are standouts in the dynamic, mostly teenage cast. Spring Awakening, a spiky hothouse bloom, drags not only Wedekind’s play but musical theater itself firmly into the now.—Adam Feldman