Friday, December 12, 2008

Revisiting Youth - Spring Awakening and 13 - Musical Re-Reviews

Spring Awakening - Eugene O'Neill Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - *****
Music by Duncan Sheik, Book & Lyrics by Steven Sater, Directed by Michael Mayer, Choreographed by Bill T. Jones
On Broadway until Jan. 18 2009

13 - Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - ****
Music & Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, Book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, Directed by Jeremy Sams, Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli
On Broadway until Jan. 4 2009

Ah the joys of youth! So I went back to see Spring Awakening again (for the 8th and 9th time) to see it for the first time without original leads Jonathan Groff and Lea Michelle so that I could check out the new cast currently led by Hunter Parrish of Weeds fame. If you follow my blog, you know from my first review (or 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th review) that I LOVE the show, but would it work with a new cast?

I also returned to see 13 again on Broadway after seeing it at Goodspeed during its pre-Broadway run. I had a positive review from Goodspeed and while they've tinkered with the show and cut out a few songs and about an hour of the show (now about 90 min without an intermission), 13 is still just as delightful, if not tighter, than before.

Not only that, I went to see 13 twice as well and managed to catch both actors playing the leads (with Graham Phillips playing evening shows and Corey Snide playing matinees) and both have individual spins on the lead character Evan Goldman.

At this point, there's nothing really I can add about the show Spring Awakening itself. The lighting is superb. The choreography is precisely chaotic and perfectly angsty. The music and songs is still one of the best scores to hit Broadway. The story still moves me and the book is still funnier than I keep expecting the dark musical to have. Christine Estabrook is still currently playing Adult Women and she keeps changing the way she plays each scene yet is someone always spot on amazing with her choices (and hilarious to boot). Glenn Fleshler has gotten a LOT better as Adult Men but I still prefer Stephen Spinella. As for the new kids?

Hunter Parrish is a knockout as the new Melchior. And I'm speaking as a devoted Jonathan Groff fan (plus my future husband, he just doesn't know it yet). Parrish leaves behind any of the surliness of Silas Botwin and confidently grabs hold of Melchior and runs with it. His speaking voice is lower than I've seen him on TV or in the movies (wonderfully gawky in Freedom Writers) and more assured, and his singing voice is surprisingly amazing (though on the second night I saw him, he cracked a little on one of the songs and sounded like he was exhausted but then rebounded in subsequent songs) with a lower register than Groff.

Sadly, I wasn't as enthused with Parrish's co-star, Alexandra Socha, whose voice is whispy and a fraction of Lea Michelle's powerhouse sound. Her slight and frail frame automatically suits the character better and her acting is a little better on some scenes, but then far worse on others (in her reaction to Martha's beating and her "breakdown" to Melchior, she barely moves more than a note from a monotone delivery, as if she were reading the menu at the drivethru). On the second night, I managed to see Alice Lee as Wendla and although you had to accept the colour-blind casting, Lee was slightly better than Socha in acting and singing, though with bouts of stand-by nervousness.

Original cast member Gerard Canonico finally gets the lead with Moritz and does a fine job but I think I still prefer original John Galagher Jr. and Blake Bashoff (currently on the tour). Matt Doyle (currently Jonathan on Gossip Girl) is always a fave of mine and anything to hear his beautiful voice is a positive thing, and he does a wonderful job with Hanschen, but I still think he's a bit miscast in the role and would work better as someone else (he would probably make a great Melchior actually). Emma Hunton is an absolute marvel as Ilse (though I didn't love her performance in a previous viewing but now love her). Emily Kinney is great in the smallest of the girls parts. Andrew Durand may not have the powerful voice Skylar Astin did but he's great nonetheless. Zach Reiner-Harris filled in for Ernst the week I went and while he didn't have the automatic gawkiness that Gideon Glick had with his slight body, he definitely exuded the same aura with his performance along with a wonderful voice.

The biggest disappointments were Amanda Castaños who pales to original Martha, Lilli Cooper, and Caitlin Kinnunen as Thea who just didn't quite mine the laughs that Remy Zaken did.

Generally speaking, the voices were maybe 90% of the strength of the original cast (with Hunter Parrish, Matt Doyle and Emma Hunton being the best of the new cast), but the show is so strong and powerful that it could be overlooked and the show is still worth seeing before it closes on Broadway in the new year.

Over at the Jacobs Theatre, the kids are singing and dancing up a storm, and while the show has generally gotten a harsh rap, I'm still really loving the show 13. The simple story has been trimmed and slightly re-arranged so that it's a bit more streamlined and which makes our protagonist Evan Goldman more likable. A lot of jokes have been cut in the process and some of the side characters are less developed, but overall, the story is probably at the right length considering the simplicity of the plot.

If there's any doubt in this show, it's that the story is a basic after-school-special plot, with a Jewish boy moving from New York to smalltown Indiana where he must choose making friends with nice geeky people or the cool mean kids. It's not exactly Shakespeare but I don't really have a problem with the simplicity of the plot and I liked the general theme of learning to become a man by the choices one makes.

What REALLY makes this show standout though is the music and the energy of the performances from the insanely talented cast of kids, all who are around 13 years old (give or take a few years) playing 13 year olds with an accompanying band who are all in their teens as well.

Jason Robert Brown's music is fun, catchy and very different than his previous shows (the much more grown-up The Last Five Years, Parade). While I miss some of the songs they cut ("Opportunity" which is still on the Broadway Cast Recording) and they've re-arranged the once superlong "Thirteen" that introduced the whole story (and now is about half the length and doesn't get to the point where Evan moves to Indiana), it's still the most hummable new show this year and I've found myself singing them all in my head for the rest of my trip. Christopher Gatelli's choreography is fun and fresh and the kids dance up a storm.

The cast is still superb with Graham Phillips (above left) rotating with Corey J. Snide in the lead role. Graham Phillips makes a genial lead and looks more the part of the New York Jewish boy. The blond Corey J. Snide (Billy Elliot in London and Sydney) may not look very Jewish and he's a bit... how shall I say this... "musical theatre" for the straight role, he's a superb singer with a really likable presence that commands the stage.

Allie Trimm (above left) as geek Patrice still has a voice that brings down the house and is superb in her role as the outcast with heart. You will either love or hate Aaron Simon Gross (above centre) as Archie, the kid with the debilitating disease and his voice can fluctuate from strong to weak depending on the night (he was totally on the first night and totally off during the second viewing) but I personally love his odd speaking voice (that sort of mimics Yoda) and his odd screams and yelps were hilarious to me.

I'm sad that Elizabeth Egan Gillies (above right) as bad girl Lucy has a lesser role than the earlier incarnation at Goodspeed since she barely gets to showcase her strong singing voice, but the girl does bad girl well and builds a bigger character than her fellow (but good girl) friend Kendra, blandly played by Delaney Moro.

As for the rest of the ensemble, Al Calderon (above right, below second from right) is still a standout despite his small stature and his Motown voice that comes out of that little guy is hilarious as it is amazing. They recast his buddy with Malik Hammond (above left) for Broadway and the duo are so cute together as cool jock Brett's entourage. Brett is still played by Eric Nelsen (above centre) who is incredibly funny as the dumb jock but I still think he has the weakest voice of the cast.

The hilarious "Bad Bad News" with four little guys singing is still in the show and still a show stopper thanks to Calderon, Eamon Foley's (above left) long note, and the adorable Joey LaVarco's high voice (which is adorably cracking). Ariana Grande as Charlotte has an ENORMOUS voice that is totally underused, Caitlin Gann dances like she's had a case of Red Bull, and Brynn Williams rounds out the cast and does a great job in the closing number "Brand New You".

My points of concern are the new sets for the show which have been totally revamped since Goodspeed and I found them to be quite disappointing. The backdrop for "smalltown Indiana" seemed even sadder than need be and a little plain and boring and I much preferred the one-but-versatile and colourful set at Goodspeed.

I also think that the song "Hey Kendra" should have been cut as opposed to some of the other portions that had been cut. They milk the barbershop thing much later with "Bad Bad News" and "Hey Kendra" just isn't a great song that barely moves the plot forward. However, with that exception, the rest of the score is really fun and the exuberant cast performs it with all of their energetic youth.

There's been debate about whether this show belongs on Broadway but personally I think it's great that it's made the Great White Way. It may have done better financially Off-Broadway and will do really well regionally and in schools but I still think there's a spot on Broadway for a simple show for kids that still feels fresh and scrappy and real (as opposed to another new show for kids that feels corporate and soulless). It may be geared to a younger generation but there's enough jokes and comedy within the show for adults to enjoy (and from the reaction of the performances at, the adults seemed to love it, so I'm not sure where all this hating is coming from on the internet) and again, the songs by Jason Robert Brown are surprisingly complex and witty for such a fun show for the young and the young at heart.

Both 13 and Spring Awakening are sadly closing on Broadway in January but if you haven't seen them yet, I still highly recommend them, if only for remembering all that energy of youth that we all once exhibited.


Esther said...

I totally agree with you about 13 feeling fresh and scrappy (as opposed to the corporate and soulless Shrek).

I can't believe I was thinking about skipping this based on some of the reviews. I really loved it. I loved the score and the choreography and the jokes and the energy of the kids and the very sweet message. And I like how it didn't make Archie an object of pity, but someone who was scheming along with everyone else.

While I've never been in a situation exactly like Evan's, and I'm way past 13, as someone who's Jewish, I totally related to his character and what he was going through.

And while Allie Trimm was out at the performance I saw, Ariana Grande was awesome as Patrice. You are so right about her enormous voice.

I did wonder whether it laid on the kids' ignorance of Jews a little too thick. I mean, it makes it seem like Evan is the only Jewish kid in the school, the only Jewish person any of them has ever met!

Keira Andrews said...

Funny you should mention that Matt Doyle would make a great Melchior, as I saw him in that role as an understudy in November. He was phenomenal. I'm actually going back next week to see Hunter, since I'd really wanted to see him, but Matt will really be a hard act to follow! I can't wait to see his Hanschen. I do think he's a tad miscast, but I'm sure he'll be awesome anyway.

I'm so glad to hear that you liked Hunter, as a lot of people (and by people I mean the obsessed fans who frequent The Guilty Ones message board) don't seem to care for him.

I didn't dislike Alexandra as much as you did, but I was very surprised at her voice. I was expecting a belter like Lea, and I could barely hear her during "Mama Who Bore Me." (Perhaps the sound was wonky that night?) I did think she did a great job with "Whispering" and the songs that didn't require as much oomph.

Vance said...

Oooh, I would have loved to see Matt as Melchior! Yah, I'm starting to get bored of the boards on TGO and Broadwayworld cause all everyone does is bitch with their negativity.

Keira Andrews said...

Yeah, I hate the negative nellies, too.

Did you see the videos from the recent benefit shows the SA cast did? Matt is so fabulous:


Vance said...

Thanks for the link! WHOA. Matt is SOOOOOO GOOD. I love the info line describing it. Pretty accurate.

Keira Andrews said...

You're very welcome. In case you also didn't see this, they did a second Xmas show on Monday at Joe's Pub, and ended it with Purple Summer:

Poor Emma can't get through the intro without crying. Awww. And Hunter is there in the back with a black hat on, but you can't see him until the end when they're getting off stage. He gives Gerard a big adorable hug at 4:43. Bless!