"How often do you see something genuinely revolutionary on the West End stage? Or genuinely half-revolutionary? Not so often you can afford to look away when a phenomenon like Spring Awakening hits town." How true, I thought, in response to this astonishing accolade in Time Out about Spring Awakening, which opened at the Novello in mid-April. So I went to one of the opening performances in London. After all, I thought, Time Out was hardly likely to risk its sophisticated, edgy reputation on something that wasn't, as it claimed, "very special indeed".
Another unusually hot ticket that same week, also a musical, was the press night of Trevor Nunn's interpretation at the Garrick Theatre of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music. It, too, was rapturously received, but not by me, and I was left wondering, in the thundering applause, whether there was something wrong with musicals or with me.
Spring Awakening is a drama of youthful sexual longing and rage struggling against adult repression. The musical is closely based on the 1906 German play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, set in a society which, unlike ours, was extremely repressive in every way. This production has a period setting, complete with Edwardian knickerbockers. It races through old-fashioned teenage sex, abortion, paternal abuse, suicide and reform school, as well as masturbation on stage performed by the most beautiful boy in the adorably young and enthusiastic cast. The general message is parents bad, kids good. Kids will bring about a better tomorrow, especially if they're allowed to express themselves sexually. And if that's revolutionary, I don't know what the word means. As far as I am concerned, the music is barely tolerable - a mixture of soppy ballads and low-grade pop, belted out with more volume than talent.