The Playgoer: Spring Awakening, or Fall Asleep?

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Spring Awakening, or Fall Asleep?

Riedel may think he has a scoop on the "new" musical from Spring Awakening team Stephen Sater/Duncan Sheik--Nero--but for once in my life I can say I've scooped Riedel!

As one of the probably few New Yorkers who saw premiere of Nero: Another Golden Rome at San Francisco's Magic Theatre in February '06, I can say it was positively awful. Now to be fair, it was first preview of a very technically demanding, sprawling production, in a small space probably not used to such challenges. So it did feel like more of a stumble-through. Still, let's just say I found it three hours of meandering arcana about a story nobody cares about anymore, and no one in the house cared more about afterwards. Frankly, if I'm going to see a boring play about Nero, I'd rather sit through Racine's Brittanicus. In French! (Which tells basically the same story.)

Ok, to be even fairer... I'm sure extensive rewriting has gone on. The Nero I saw (which was pre-Spring Awakening, btw, which was just about to open Off B'way) was barely a musical, really more of an obscure verse play "with music by Duncan Sheik." So potential investors should take note this is not a crowd pleaser. Riedel quotes Sheik as saying Nero "makes 'Spring Awakening' look like 'The Wedding Singer.' " He's got that right, alright. Just maybe not in the way he meant.

Sorry, I'm really not trying to sabotage Sater and Sheik's careers. I admired and enjoyed Spring Awakening, despite some caveats about the alterations to Wedekind's original. (Probably not a frequent complaint from the crowds on Broadway, I'll grant.) But what alarms me is how, according to Riedel at least, this is Broadway bound! Or at least the leaking to Riedel's column aims at buzz to that effect. Staging Nero at, say, the Public (where the recent workshop was held) would probably be an interesting event, at an appropriate venue. But Broadway does not need such an idiosyncratic historical indulgence, and Sater & Sheik certainly don't need the whopping, flopping snorefest that would ensue in a 1000-seat house with millions of dollars at stake.

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