After seeing the Altarena Playhouse’s spectacular production of Rocky Horror Picture Show, I subscribed to their entire 2012 season. And because I hadn’t seen the critically acclaimed, Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening, I was really looking forward to last Friday’s opening night.
Unfortunately, I forgot to put it on my husband’s radar. Years ago, that would have led to a major argument but thank heaven, he has mellowed considerably over the years.
When I mentioned it to him late Friday afternoon he sighed, took a shower and changed clothes as I grabbed the ticket reservation off the kitchen bulletin board. Reading the synopsis to refresh my memory on the plot, I realized Si was going to hate it — child abuse, sadomasochism, and suicide — pretty dark stuff for a date night at the end of a tough workweek.
So in the interest of avoiding his stepping over patrons to escape a darkened theater, I decided to fill him in. I read aloud,
“Spring Awakening is a rock musical adaptation of the controversial 1892 German play of the same title by Frank Wedekind. Set in late-19th century Germany, it concerns teenagers who are discovering the inner and outer tumult of sexuality. The original play was banned in Germany for some time due to its frank portrayal of abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide. In the musical, alternative rock is employed as part of the folk-infused rock score.”
I know my husband well. He took a pass.
It was 7 and the show started at 8. As fast as I could, I dialed every number for every friend who might say yes at the last minute, but couldn’t find a willing companion.
So I went alone.
There was one empty seat in the theatre — front row center, right between two octogenarians. I worried they had no idea what lay ahead.
When I brought the woman to my left up to speed, her only concern was that the rock music might be a bit too loud. She didn’t seem to care a whit about the explicit content. I liked her immediately and we began a conversation about adult children, grandchildren, family politics and our mutual love for Alameda. I confided in her how much I missed my mother, hoping that she might offer to adopt me on the spot.
Turns out she has 10 children, so I’m not holding my breath.
The lights went down and the show surpassed my expectations. Director and producer Frederick L. Chacon’s mother should be proud, as should the mothers of lead actors Brendan North (Melchior) and Riley Krull (Wendla.) At intermission I overheard several patrons praising Christina Lazo’s terrific choreography. (Christina teaches at Pamm Drake’s Dance 10 studios, where our daughter danced while at St. Joseph’s.) I chatted with orchestra conductor Dean Starnes while I stood on the High Street sidewalk, eating a chocolate chip cookie from Julie’s Coffee and Tea Garden.
You’ll never get that personal theater experience on Broadway or even Geary, for that matter. A ticket for a fraction of the price of a show in the City, less than 10 minutes from home, free parking, not a bad seat in the house, and chatting with the conductor midway through the show? Seriously? I’m thinking of buying another ticket and going again. I do love Alameda.
In the lobby after the show, I met “Melchior’s” mother, who was from Louisville, Kentucky. When I told her that I thought he was absolutely fabulous, she smiled broadly and thanked me. She said she was indeed proud and had told him she would support his acting as long as he enrolled in a four-year college so he had a backup plan.
When I was in middle school, I begged my own mother for acting lessons at ACT. She turned me down flat. (I think her exact words were something like, “Over my dead body, Honey-bun.”)
I never forgave her completely, but it was probably for the best. Although I can’t dance, I can sing pretty darn well in the privacy of my car or shower. And give me any sized audience and I’ll prove I am a Honey-bun ham. But I wouldn’t make it “through to Vegas” on American Idol and, compared to the caliber of the kids at the Altarena that night, I wouldn’t last a minute on Broadway. Performing explicit scenes inches from a row of grandparents? Their poise and talent is admirable.
When I praised “Wendla” after the show, she did admit that it was much tougher to sing “F*&#” into the face of a 90-year-old man than it had been in an empty theater. (She didn’t even mention the sex scene…)
I drove home Friday evening with more than just another great night at the Altarena. For one, I continue to be glad that I was always straightforward with our daughters about the importance of practicing safe sex. For another, there’s good reason that the senior citizens by my side weren’t surprised by Spring Awakening’s scandalous content. As my grandfather said years ago, there is absolutely nothing new under the sun.
Warning: Contains sexual themes and explicit lyrics. Not suitable for young children, or for husbands who can’t handle adolescent angst.
Performance times for Spring Awakening are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 15. Ticket prices are $19 for seniors and students and $22 general admission, on sale at Altarena.org or by phone at 510-523-1553