March 5 2009 12:00 AM

Bold story, Sheik songs drive daring musical

Most contemporary Broadway musicals play to their niche audience, but that audience may finally have a chance to grow with “Spring Awakening,” a musical that bridges the great divide between indie rock and Broadway. There are still enough melodramatic moments and big numbers to keep Broadway fans in their seats, but the music has changed dramatically, and it is good.

Based on the still-controversial late 19th-century German play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, the show features music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater, which blend harmoniously with the themes of forbidden fruit, sexual education and oppressive parenting. “Spring Awakening” feels perfectly tailored for the teens who loved “Twilight” in a decade that has simultaneously stretched progressive policies while breeding a new generation of strict conservatism. Despite the ongoing battle to keep sex sinful and taboo for conversation, the adolescents of this play sing out, dreaming of a future where parents understand and educate young ones about their budding hormones instead of punishing them for feeling.

Christy Altomare stars as Wendla, a nave girl raised on stories of storks. She falls in love with Melchior (Kyle Riabko), a lad with superior intellect and a willingness to question authority. Melchior is also influential to Moritz (Blake Bashoff), a burnout whose wet dreams sponge his concentration away from school. The sexual tension between Wendla and Melchior is plucked and bowed like a well-tuned string, driving the show’s pulse as much as the first act’s rock songs. Altomare, Riabko and Bashoff all have great solo voices that blend with the ensemble just as well.

The rest of the cast members also do well developing their characters, even when they play more than one.

Bill T. Jones’ choreography is creative and sensual, cracking sparks as the friction heats up between the young pupils and their adult guardians. The lighting design by Kevin Adams goes far beyond spotlights, and Christine Jones’ set keeps the cast onstage at all times, while creating movable layers for key emotional scenes.

Only the final song, a full ensemble piece that works to lighten the mood after a dark but hopeful scene, reminds the audience that the musical formula is still in place. Everything else is funny and stirring and moves quickly, even for the more than two-hour running time. While Broadway may seem an unusual place for relevant, classic dramas to meet indie-rock songsters, hopefully “Spring Awakening” is the start of a trend and not the height of the genre."

Spring Awakening

March 1 7:30 p.m. Wednesday & Thursday 8 p.m. Friday 2 p.m. & 8
p.m. Saturday 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday Wharton Center $30-$68 1
(800) WHARTON www.whartoncenter.com

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