You’d think that a musical that involves teenagers exploring homosexuality, S&M, loss of virginity, and suicidal tendencies would be anything but a turgid bore. But amazingly, this reimagining of Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 play (considered positively scandalous at the time) barely quickens the pulse.
Centering on a bevy of male and female students exploring their burgeoning sexualities to (frequently) disastrous effect, director Michael (Thoroughly Modern Millie) Mayer’s staging is often risible to say the least; instead of empathy for the characters, you often feel embarassment, as the production tends to overshare information for faux-shock effect. (Case in point: a way prolonged masturbation song). And Bill T. Jones’ choreographic contributions look like outtakes from an Austin Powers film, with the cast rubbing circles around their breasts. You half expect them to ask, ”Do I make you horny, baby?” All of this is a shame, since pop singer Duncan Sheik (”Barely Breathing”) makes a more than creditable foray into theatrical composing; the melancholic ”Blue Wind” and the rousing closer ”The Song of Purple Summer” are catchy enough to become Top 40 hits.
The young cast is mostly bland, with the bright exception of John Gallagher Jr., an electric performer who’s barely recognizable as the nervous teen who became Cynthia Nixon’s unlikely ally in Rabbit Hole earlier this year. But, like many of the players, he’s saddled with a hazily defined role. The worst victim of this is Tony winner Frank Wood (Side Man), in a variety of clownish portrayals as the adult men of the story.
And with its formal schoolyard period garb and talk of deflowering and literature, Spring Awakening bears far too close a resemblance to Alan Bennett’s freshly minted Tony winner The History Boys. That show only needed a single scene to address the pains of adolescence, whereas this one still comes up empty after a dreary two-plus hours. (Tickets: Call Telecharge at 212-239-6200, or visit telecharge.com)