(*homocinematically inclined)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reel Thoughts: Musical Youth

As we continue our countdown to this Sunday's Tony Awards, Neil Cohen takes a look at last year's Best Musical:

Every decade needs its angry youth musical, it seems. Typified by Hair in the 70’s and Rent in the 90’s, the cast is usually made up of fresh young talent who don’t have much Broadway experience, and the music is very pop or rock oriented. Spring Awakening (at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre) is a worthy New Millennium successor, as it tackles themes like sexual awakening, adult oppression and indifference, suicide and peer pressure.

The score by Duncan Sheik is energizing and the cast is uniformly talented. I especially enjoyed seeing Christine Estabrook (Mrs. Huber on Desperate Housewives) playing the numerous adult women -- she is an excellent comedienne who knows how to change moods on a dime. Tony nominee Jonathan Groff will soon be starring in Hair, but owns his role as the sensitive bad boy Melchior. His co-star Blake Bashoff (who inherited the Lyle Lovett hair, seen in the ads, from now departed Tony winner John Gallagher Jr.) shows up the musical’s main shortcoming. Namely, you never quite buy him as a real person, so his fate is strangely unmoving.

Based on the late nineteenth century play by Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening tells the stories of a number of German students who discover their budding sexuality (and homosexuality in one case), but are destined to have their desires beaten out of them by uncaring adults. Songs like “Mama Who Bore Me”, “The Bitch of Living” and the self-explanatory “Totally F*cked” give voice to the teenagers protesting their unfair world. Is it telling that I much preferred Cry-Baby’s witty lyrics and rockabilly exuberance to Spring Awakening’s non-stop teen angst?

As a Spring treat, here's the original Awakening cast performing on last year's Tony Awards. This year's Tony Awards will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall this Sunday on CBS. Whoopi Goldberg will host, and scheduled presenters include Alec Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Kristin Chenoweth, Glenn Close, Harry Connick Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Richard Griffiths, Laura Linney, John Lithgow, Liza Minnelli, Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Patinkin, David Hyde Pierce, Daniel Radcliffe, Brooke Shields, Marisa Tomei, Lily Tomlin and John Waters.

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