Broadway Review: Spring Crushing?

The Rev. Debra W. Haffner is the Director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.

Editor's note: Spoiler alert.

My college age daughter and I went to see Spring Awakening on Wednesday. Hailed as a bold and ground-breaking Broadway musical concerned with adolescent sexuality, I expected to love it.

I didn't.

The story included bad parent-child commmunication about sex, nocturnal emissions, masturbation, group masturbation, incest, beatings, group masturbation, first intercourse, same sex exploration, illegal abortion, and suicide. [img_assist|nid=2692|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=193|height=51] I couldn't help wonder about the out-of-town tourist who thought they were going to see a musical like Cats and Phantom. Even I was uncomfortable with the scene where the hero is center stage masturbating to orgasm, singing the entire time. But it wasn't the topics that upset me, but the underlying message. Yes, sexual ignorance led to pregnancy … but sexual knowledge led to reform school. The young in love couple's attraction began with violence and ended with both of their deaths. In fact, all three of the main characters are dead by the end of the play.

Rather than the celebration of adolescent sexuality I expected, Spring Awakening ultimately delivers the message that adolescent exploration leads to despair and death. Joy, fun, pleasure, excitement were all strangely missing. Although I'm guessing my most conservative readers might be upset by the sexual explicitness, I think the abstinence-only folks would agree with the ending. I on the other hand kept thinking of Universalist minister John Murray saying "give them hope not hell." I wish they had.

Republished with permission from Debra Haffner's blog.

Editor's note: Check out Bill Smith's positive review of Spring Awakening.

With two of our favorite writers in such disagreement about this musical, we encourage you to see the show and decide for yourself. If you have seen it already, post a comment to let us know what you think!

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  • william-smith

    I really appreciate Debra's post and believe that she and I are not so far apart (personal tastes aside). What I think differentiates our reviews is that I do not believe it was "sexual knowledge" that led to reform school, but rather an entire narrative of bad outcomes that stem from repression and stigmatization of sexuality. Fumbling and acting out of ignorance are the avenues to disaster. They play out in spades in this show. But acquiring knowledge — genuine knowledge — is an entirely different, more thoughtful and deliberate, human exercise that informs action. Lack of knowledge is to blame for all the very dark aspects of this show's story, but I'd again suggest that they point to something bigger. People are supposed to squirm in their seats and they are supposed to leave the theatre disturbed and contemplative. This leads to asking the pivotal question of how we can create a better environment for young people. The deaths of the characters morally demand the question be asked. No, it ain't Disney on Broadway but I was pleased to leave the theatre actually "thinking" and not humming the tune to Hakuna Matata. Thanks Debra for the engagement!