Already a hit stateside, Spring Awakening is both a new musical and a new kind of musical, a rallying call for teen angst where microphones symbolically give power back to the confused, hormonal, experimental adolescents of a 19th century village rife with parental and religious oppression.
This is not a musical where conversations burst into song, but where songs which have been pent up and burning inside burst from characters who can no longer hold them in.
The musical juxtaposes times and styles. The 19th century story is mixed with a distinctly 21st century score which owes a debt to the American teen rock that grew out of the melange of pop, punk, grunge and indie.
The plot, taken from Frank Wedekind’s play, is an ensemble piece with a trio of characters at its centre: the talented, idealistic Melchior (a Lee Mead-like Aneurin Barnard); the troubled, struggling Moritz (Iwan Rheon) who is haunted by his strange new feelings; and the pure, inquisitive Wendla (Charlotte Wakefield), who simply wants to understand and experience life.
If it didn’t have such popularity among a similar audience demographic, Spring Awakening could almost be seen as the antidote to High School Musical. Where the Disney musical is all cheesy grins, schoolyard troubles and pop, Spring Awakening touches on abuse, sex, abortion, suicide and the darker side of adolescence through rock that is sometimes guitar-thrashing and sometimes contemplative.
This is not to say that it is all gloom and doom; the show comes with light and shade. Show stealing numbers like The B**ch Of Living and Totally F**ked are a fabulous outlet for the anger we have all felt during teenage years, though the seething rage of duet The Dark I Know Well sticks in the mind long after the curtain comes down. There is also humour aplenty in Steven Sater’s book and lyrics, but never at the expense of a story with a satisfying, if tragic, realism.
The fact that it is only on reading the programme that you realise the majority of the young cast are making their professional stage debuts in Spring Awakening speaks volumes for their slickness and success in testing roles. The guiding, experienced hands of the Richard Cordery and Sian Thomas, who play all of the production’s almost universally disagreeable adults, must have helped mould the performances of this next generation of performers with the passion, talent and energy to move from this success to become the future of British musical theatre.