I'm happy to report that the former one-hit wonder Duncan Sheik has composed a really wonderful set of songs for the new musical Spring Awakening, currently in previews at the former church on West 20th Street that's the mainstage for the Atlantic Theatre Company, and the lyrics by Steven Sater definitely have their moments as well.
I wish I could say the same for Sater's adaptation of Frank Wedekind's oft-censored 1891 play about teenage sexuality by the same name. I've never seen Wedekind's play performed on its own, but I didn't feel like Sater was able to integrate the different modes and idioms of the play into a very coherent whole. The music and lyrics are decidedly contemporary, and they work well, I thought, but the spoken action seems to range from attempts at a period piece (German provincialism in the 1890s) to somewhat hokey attempts to bring the characters into the present. The choreography feels rather forced, highlighted as it is by a repeated sequence of arm movements that was probably intended to look nascently sensual but instead comes across like a bad riff on the Macarena; it looks especially silly when performed by the schoolboys, almost like a parody of itself. Also, the drama seemed neither serious enough nor funny enough to be what you might call tragicomic.
All that said, I did enjoy the music, and found it to be refreshingly original and rarely derivative, well sung by the various cast members, especially Lea Michele as the young female lead and Jonathan Groff as the male lead. And I'm pretty sure that Mr. Sheik himself was playing guitar, as promised, in the four-piece on-stage band, which also included bass, drums and cello. I sat in the front row, next to a guy named Chris who said he worked with Duncan on the music for the show during the development stages, but ultimately left the project to record his first CD for Absolutely Kosher Records, due out later this year.