Tag Archives: Dark Musicals

Spring Awakening – Greenwich Theatre (currently touring the UK)

Image from uktheatre.net

A really important piece of theatre, fantastically produced. Emphasising the humour amongst this wonderful score, rendered with great vocals and choreography, Sell-A-Door’s Spring Awakening is not to be missed.

Spring Awakening, based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind (which was banned in most of Europe for 50 years), was first produced as a musical at the Atlantic Theatre in New York in 2006, then transferred to Broadway and picked up 8 Tony Awards. A 2009 production at the Lyric Hammersmith transferred to the West End, was controversially cut short after two months, yet still managed to collect 4 Oliviers. Now everyone who regrets missing it is in for a treat as it returns for a UK tour.

I’ve seen this musical three times now and would hate to think how many times I’ve listened to the soundtrack (featuring Broadway cast and current day Glee stars Lea Michelle and Jonathan Groff). Yet the success of this play lies not only in it’s score, youthful energy or controversy, but each production’s willingness and ability to shock the audience.

The material is controversial – sexual awakening of the young has been seen in films and read in books countless times, but the immediacy of young sexuality as rendered in bare flesh on the stage has the ability to make even the most self-consciously liberal audience member squirm in their seat. Maybe it’s because this is one of the last taboos, maybe it’s because the memories of trying desperately to figure out what on earth was going on as adolescents are too close for comfort. Maybe it’s because we know that our adult society is still riddled with many of the injustices in its treatment of children as are discussed here. Whilst every parent is still desperate to educate their child, many would still storm out of the theatre at the interval if they had accompanied a 13 year old and then realised that this isn’t just about the birds and the bees.

Whilst listening to the songs in the years between seeing productions, it’s easy to forget how affecting this musical can be. These kids aren’t only working out where babies come from, they’re dealing with relentless educational pressure compounded by conspiring teachers as well as physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their carers. The play deals with suicide, pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality and even adds a dash of sado-masochism into the mix.

The material must be hugely difficult to produce well, but Sell-A-Door have succeeded beautifully here. The cast is excellent, with Jonathan Eio as Melchior standing out in a group of extremely string vocalists, dancers and actors. The set is simple but inventive, the lighting atmospheric and the choreography electric. Greenwich Theatre (a new discovery for me) is also a wonderful space – open  and not too big, I’d place a bet that you’d get a good view from any seat.

Image from selladoor.com

The tour continues in Greenwich until Sunday 12th (a matinée), then moving on to The Lowry, Salford Quays before finishing in Norwich Playhouse on June 18th – see tour schedule. If you have any opportunity at all, go and see this show, and take your kids (no lawsuits please, I’ve warned you of the content)! It’s certainly the most enjoyable sex education lesson I ever had. Personally, I think that it should be required viewing for teenagers, but that’s probably another article… Enjoy.

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Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story – Charing Cross Theatre until 11th June

Jye Frasca as Nathan Leopold & George Maguire as Richard Loeb - http://www.garrylakephotography.com

This two hander from Stephen Dolginoff makes a successful transfer to the Charing Cross Theatre – retaining the intensity and fascination of the original run, but adding a hint of swagger and confidence in its comedy.

I have fallen in love with this play. This deal was sealed over a month ago when I saw the story of compulsion and delinquency in a theatre a quarter the size of its present home. It’s probably due to that initial intimacy (a 60 seater, we weren’t sat far from the front) that it was hard not to feel an investment in this production – I have been rooting for it ever since. I also see this as an exceptional example of what music theatre can do. There are many musicals out there without a hint of ‘jazz hands’, but this is so tightly plotted and so accessibly intense (85 minutes without even a break for applause) that I’d urge everyone to take along a musicals-sceptic friend and see if they can be converted.

George Maguire as Richard Loeb – http://www.garrylakephotography.com

The most obvious difference in this transfer is in the character of Richard Loeb. Played by the less experienced of the two stars, George Maguire, what was previously more of a straight man role around which Jye Frasca’s Leopold could hang his telling of the story has become more of an equal billing. Maguire’s Loeb has grown in confidence and added a greater element of the aforementioned ‘swagger’ to his performance. This Loeb is more charismatic and persuasive – more scary. Maguire is haunting as he sings ‘Step into my Roadster’ to the child that they are about to kidnap, hilarious when he casually suggests murdering his brother, and he equals the fantastic performance of his co-star, Jye Frasca.

Frasca is still on top form – creating a Leopold so entwined in his regard for Loeb that not even the reality of murder can break him out of his reverie. The chemistry between the two is electric. They claim to be ‘like brothers’ off-stage, and it shows. With an almost bare set, single piano and simple costumes, this production allows the two most important elements to shine – a believeable central relationship and impelling score.

Stephen Dolginoff’s music, book & lyrics are totally fantastic -the score imbuing the action with a sense of relentlessness and urgency. His lyrics are direct and clever, delivering chilling and comedic moments aplently. The comedy is emphasised more in this new version – there were certainly more laugh-out-loud moments – partly due to the greater emphasis on Richard’s arrogance, and partly to the fact that the greater audience space gives viewers more of a chance to breathe and react. Whilst the intimacy of a tiny theatre will always be missed, in making the show ‘bigger’ in its comedy and characterisation, the extra space here has been well filled.

Time for a summing up. The verdict is clear – head down to the Charing Cross Theatre before 11th June for the thrill of your theatrical life.

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story is playing at the Charing Cross Theatre (formally New Players) until Saturday June 11th. For my review of the Tristan Bates version please click here.

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