Theater Review: Spring Awakening

'Post' reviews Israeli rendition of classic play by Frank Wedekind, turned into a musical in 2006.

spring awakening 311 (photo credit: PR/Dor Malka)
spring awakening 311
(photo credit: PR/Dor Malka)
Spring Awakening By Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik Based on the play by Frank Wedekind Translated by Daniel Efrat Choreographed and directed by Gilad Kimchi Beit Lessin, May 10
Wedekind wrote Spring Awakening in 1891. Sater and Sheik wrote the musical in 2006. In 1906, Max Reinhardt directed the first production, which the censors promptly banned as indecent, obscene, a moral outrage. The musical won eight Tonys on Broadway in 2007. Other times, other mores? Not really.
Today’s teens are not that different from their 19th century counterparts. Their exploding sexuality still confuses, still wrenches them every which way. Fathers still rape their daughters. Parents still abuse their children, physically and emotionally. Teachers, parents, religion – all still don’t really tell the kids what they need to know. Hypocrisy and ignorance still abound. The taboos are still there, changed in degree but not in kind.
As play and as musical, Spring Awakening addresses these same issues. The plot centers around lovely Wendla (Ninet Tayeb), smart and handsome Melchior (Ido Bartal) and agonized Moritz (Ido Rozenberg). Melchior, who in an illustrated essay has tried to explain sex to Moritz, is sent to a reformatory for his depravity. Moritz, who regards himself as a failure and is so regarded by his abusive father, kills himself. Wendla, who craves and is craved by Melchior, gets pregnant when they make love, then dies from a botched abortion. Her mother, who couldn’t bring herself to explain reproduction, is the one who drags her to the abortionist.
These children are bedeviled by their developing bodies, and because those entrusted with their care and nurture fail them, their bodies betray them.
This Spring Awakening at Beit Lessin is nearly a stunner. The Young Beit Lessin troupe gives its all. The direction and execution are lively. Kimchi’s choreography is clean and visually impressive. Diction is clear and crisp. The problem lies with Bartal and Tayeb. Both have charm. Both are lovely to look at. Unfortunately, their voices are no more than adequate, and it takes them too much time to get into their characters – though they do get there in the end – so that their performances lack the immediacy and the urgency that inform and drive the show.
Rozenberg as Moritz has both in spades. He has a voice and enormous stage charisma, as does Hila Zitoun’s outcast Ilse. As sexually-abused Marta, Dikla Hadar is dramatically and vocally moving. As all the adult women and all the adult men, Dana Shrier and Yossi Toledo run the gamut from drama to farce. They are very, very good.
As a musical, Spring Awakening is a revelation; the 19th century with mikes. Text and lyrics are strong, and some of Sheik’s songs will probably become classics. Take the teens – they’ll love it. So will you – wincing.