A rock musical set in 1890s Germany that explores sexual awakening and puberty, Spring Awakening opened on Broadway in 2006, and proceeded to sweep the 2007 Tony Awards. Featuring an attractive and talented young cast, the show was huge in the young Broadway fan community.
And now, seven years later, the show's writer, Steven Sater, has announced that the long-awaited movie version is finally happening. In the intervening years, the leads have gone on to higher-profile projects (Glee for Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff, Frozen for Groff, and The Newsroom for John Gallagher, Jr.), and have, more importantly, aged eight years. So while it's unlikely that the magic of the original Broadway cast will be recaptured (because let's be real, the original cast of Rent did not look like broke twenty-somethings when they reconvened to film the movie eight years later), there are still plenty of things to look forward to in this forthcoming movie adaptation.
Sure, most recent movie versions of Broadway musicals have been duds, but, in the right hands, Spring Awakening could be - dare we say it? - good. Here's why:
1. It's already retro. A common pitfall of contemporary movie musical adaptations is that by the time the movie is made, the material feels dated. Rent is the perfect example of this. When the stage version hit Broadway in the mid-nineties, the rock opera about AIDS was relevant. By the time the mid-2000s rolled around and the movie was released, the nineties were in that awkward place between being current and being retro, belonging to neither camp. The new version of Annie starring Quvenzhané Wallis is taking a different tack by setting it in the present day, though it remains to be seen whether or not that will work. Spring Awakening shouldn't fall victim to any era woes, though - the 1890s were retro in 2006, and they're still retro in 2014. They might even be more relevant now - Moritz's haircut is inexplicably hip at the moment.
2. The transition from speaking to singing could work
There's something about the suspension of disbelief in theater and movies where it's much more acceptable for characters to burst out into song during a live musical than it is during a movie. Maybe it has something to do with our ears subconsciously picking up on the pre-recorded tracks (a fate that the Les Miserables movie tried to avoid by having the actors sing live on set), or maybe we're just not used to seeing people transition from speaking to singing in close-ups (though it works just fine in animated features), but for whatever reason, in most cases, it just doesn't work. But Spring Awakening contains two distinct worlds: that of the spoken story, and "song world," where the characters can rock out while singing what they're really feeling. Done right, a sharp transition between "real world" and "song world" could set up the singing as being more like a music video, which is a more believable format for audiences to watch people singing on screen.
3. McG is still attached to direct
Yes, he's never done a movie musical, and he hasn't directed much recently, and he's made a few bad clunkers, but there are still plenty of reasons to be excited that he's directing this. He got his start in the music business, and cut his teeth directing music videos. And really, what are music videos if not short-form musical theater? Watch his video for "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" and you'll see how his aesthetic could easily work for a rock movie musical.
4. Up-and-coming/unexpected musical talent
Since the original cast looks too old to play teenagers now, the movie should feature some fresh faces. It would be great to see a combination of performers from Hollywood, musical theater and pop music. Just imagine Hayley Williams from Paramore as Ilse. Seriously. Just do it. You won't regret it. (Ok, she's 25, but she looks young.)
5. There will be an audience for it
Spring Awakening shouldn't face the same problems that plagued Nine or The Producers. Young people love Spring Awakening - to borrow a phrase from the generation, they "literally can't" when it comes to the musical. Unless the movie is truly awful, any fan of the musical and/or Gleek will drag all of their friends to go see it. And then they'll talk about it non-stop. And then everyone around them will probably see it, just so they can be "in" on the conversation. And they'll be won over by the show's message and thrumming rock score. And the cycle will continue. Spring Awakening isn't a household name yet, but it's buzzy enough, and has enough passionate fans, that it shouldn't have much trouble finding an audience.
The reason that Spring Awakening has garnered so many young fans is because it tells a story that young people relate to. And furthermore, it's not just fluff, like so many things aimed at young adult audiences are. It addresses real issues that teens face, and it doesn't soften the truth, a tactic clearly appreciated by its audiences.
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