Sunday, May 06, 2007

Escape to New York: SPRING AWAKENING

Yes—this is me, finally getting around to writing the last installment of my New York trip!

The last day of a trip is always rather odd: I usually feel as if I’ve seen everything I wanted to see, but then again, I feel as if I haven’t seen enough. There’s an exhausted urgency to each passing hour. As Mary Leo and I hit the town on our last day, the rain had worn off enough to allow us an overcast sky that was pretty great for walking purposes. We decided to go to the Greenwich Village/Little Italy/Chinatown area to wander, but first we just had to grab a snacky bite from a small Peanut Butter shop that I’ve always wanted to try. You should see the menu. A total Peanut Butter porn fantasy, you guys, and I had to get the sandwich with Nutella. Yum.

Afterward, we bopped along the streets, pausing at real estate office windows and gaping at the rental prices. Yikes. We dipped into fashion boutiques, vintage stores, and then H&M, which had these super cute tank tops for $6. I know! I also bought my New Adorable Niece (2 months old) a teensy-weensy outfit there. Once on the street, I continued my mission to purchase souvenirs for the Adorables, so I got about 20 delightful finger puppets from a street vendor for my Adorable Nephew.

That’s when Mary and I hit Little Italy, but our tummies were still too full from peanut butter for lunch. Darn. Do you know what it’s like to walk through Little Italy with a full stomach? What a waste. Since Little Italy and Chinatown bleed together, we enjoyed the sights there, too, and I even found a sweet purse for my First Adorable Niece. (She’s really into purses, just like I’m into Bath and Body Works products.)

By that time, Mary and I were up for some wine and cheese, so we stopped in a tavern with indifferent service. Then we headed back uptown, where we visited a Japanese bakery, Rockefeller Square, and then grabbed some sushi before going to our final show of the trip (sob).

Now, I mentioned before that SPRING AWAKENING is fairly controversial, but it’s receiving great critical praise. Here’s the commercial that’s running on TV, just so you can get a brief feel for it:
(Note: in spite of my best efforts, I can't get the You Tube embed code to work on Explorer. You can see it on Firefox though, or probably on You Tube itself with the key search phrase Spring Awakening. Sorry. Blogger is still a mystery to me.)

Not that you can tell, but it’s set in the latter part of the 19th century in a provincial German town. Here, the adults and teachers refuse to taint their children with straight talk about sex, and the result is somewhat like REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE in short britches. Teen angst is nothing new, and I can’t say SPRING AWAKENING did much to enlighten me, but there is some power to its presentation. There’s a disturbing dark tone that hovers over every scene, and the characters’ confusion isn’t pretty to watch. What’s surprising about this musical though is the use of its music: it starts out with a haunting, more traditional teen lament called “Mama Who Bore Me,” and when this song is reprised as an angry, pleading rock anthem, it’s a wake up call. From that point on, the rock-and-roll (which serves to tell us that even though the years have passed, the way we rage hasn’t changed so much) starts to feel commonplace in this setting. Characters whip out cordless mics from their jackets when it’s time to sing, and you can sense a certain wildness in the eyes of each young character as drama turns to melodrama—which isn’t unusual for this sort of high-school age group.

(SPOILERS in this paragraph) The lyrics are racy, and there’s a fairly uncomfortable sexual thread between the two lead teens: at one point, the heroine asks the hero to experiment with beating her, because in her misguided suspicions about what love and sex might be, she associates violence with intimacy. There’s also a sex scene that closes out the first act, and it’s not at all romantic: the female tells the male to stop, but then eggs him on, and there’s a primal, barely contained violence about the encounter.

As I said, the critics—including Rosie O’Donnell, who can’t stop talking about this show—pretty much love SPRING AWAKENING. It was interesting to note the audience reaction though. We were in the middle balcony, and we noticed that the orchestra seats on the bottom floor closer to the stage gave the performance a standing ovation. About 1/3 of our balcony did so. Only about 10 people in the upper balcony gave those sorts of kudos. I couldn’t help wondering if this play works more magic up close.

So that was New York, my friends. Can’t wait to go next year, if I’m lucky enough to swing it.

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