Wednesday, March 4, 2009

'Spring Awakening,' a timeless, iconoclastic look

Moritz contemplates his existential plight in the song "And Then There Were None" in the national tour of "Spring Awakening."

Spring Awakening" is no Broadway musical. Which is why it's a Broadway musical for today.

Cleveland on Tuesday night became one of only a handful of cities in the country visited by the superb national tour of this important work of art.

That's when "Spring Awakening" busted open a two-week stand at the Palace Theatre, where it delighted young people who don't generally go in for Broadway musicals, and befuddled and occasionally shocked the older, traditional crowd, which nonetheless hung in there and sometimes even grooved.

"Spring Awakening" is different, for starters, because it's based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, banned for years in the author's native Germany ostensibly for its unblinking look at adolescents discovering their sexuality and their ability to think independently.

Ostensibly because while there is sex (hetero and homo), as well as masturbation, child abuse, abortion and suicide, the threatening thing about the play is that it forces adult authority figures -- teachers, parents, pastors -- to face the fact that they mess up their kids as much as help.

And, it suggests, that we all might be better off if instead of trying to make our kids be like us, we might consider trying to be more like them: Curious, questioning, adventuresome.

Second, playwright and lyricist Steven Slater and alt-rock singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik had no interest in trying to turn this nonconformist story into a traditional Broadway show.

There's much to love in "Showboat," "Okahoma!" and "Guys and Dolls, but those musicals, while timeless, were products of their time. Timeless classics can only be treasured when they're enjoyed beside challenging contemporary work, and vice-versa.

And "Spring Awakening" is timeless, filled with angry anthems about the pain of growing and the stupidity of screwing up, with gorgeous and haunting ballads about being abused by a parent and finding inspiration in loved ones, alive and dead.

The creators and director Michael Mayer make it a play and a rock concert, the kids toggling back and forth from the 19th century to the 21st century, speaking classically but rocking out hard and scratching their itches in Bill T. Jones' searching choreography.

New men's day in fashion

While London designers have often shown a few men’s looks as part of their women’s lineup, this season the British Fashion Council decided to give men’s designers their own dedicated day to shine. And rugged British fabrics and retro silhouettes — from skinny Fifties suits and Nineties ravers to looks that recalled medieval armor —ruled the men’s runways Wednesday.

Perhaps a sign of these recessionary times, heavy, cocooning wool knits seemed to be everywhere. J.W. Anderson, who showed as part of the Man lineup, a Topman-sponsored showcase for emerging designers, sent out chunky, oversize fishermen’s sweaters covered with a layer of sheer brown netting, along with nubby black-and-white tweed trousers and knitted jodhpurs. The designer said he was inspired by “early 20th-century England and the aristocracy’s fascination with fantastical expeditions.”

James Long, another of Man’s designers, worked snug sheepskin into tough, armorlike gilets with high necks decorated with leather buckles and hoods. He also sent out woolen jumpers with high cowl-necks that were threaded with small silver coins to resemble chain mail.

Topman Design, meanwhile, mined the streets of London’s Soho, circa 1950, for inspiration, working natural fabrics — herringbone, wool and tweed — into fitted, cropped-sleeve jackets and skinny, turned-up trousers, all in a muted palette of moss green, gray and brown. The functional, low-key fabrics meant the Teddy Boy silhouettes still felt modern.

Carolyn Massey, one of London’s men’s wear standouts, also took her suits in a strict, slightly retro direction. Inspired by Britain’s National Army Museum archives, Massey sent out slim navy suits with sharp shoulders, their jackets glinting with silver buttons. And she gave some of her sharp silhouettes a jolt with unexpected fabrics as well, showing a hooded military cape and trenchcoat, both in shiny black patent leather. Similarly, Patrick Grant, the designer behind the revived E Tautz line, part of the Savile Row tailors Norton & Sons, said “the military and the old-world glamour of Sandringham, the ultimate sporting estate,” was a starting point for his designs. The collection, presented at Norton & Sons’ showroom, offered tailored wool jackets in green shot with flecks of gold, and thick wool sweaters in mustard and cream, stitched with fun, quirky animal motifs in place of a logo at the breast.

Meanwhile, Christopher Shannon, the third designer to show as part of the Man lineup, played with sporty looks of a less patrician nature. His punchy show — in collaboration with Reebok — featured PVC and jersey sweat suits in blocks of gray, orange and pink, and short-sleeve gray sweatshirts emblazoned with “Shannon” logos printed one over the other, a cheeky nod at brand-obsessed activewear. With models sporting hair slicked down with gel and high-top sneakers, the looks seemed to nod to England’s throngs of sportswear-clad youths.

B Store, the private label clothing line designed by Matthew Murphy and Kirk Beattie, who own the eponymous Savile Row boutique, also looked to rebellious youth culture. Their salable collection of simple, cropped-leg cotton suits and chunky wool sweaters in cornflower blue and gray was inspired by “teenage students’ protest marches.

New York Men's Fashion Week Report: Fall 2009 Collections
New York Men's Fashion Week Report: Fall 2009 Collections
New York Fashion Week, now a reluctant harbinger for what may be the great purge of ailing American labels.
Thom Browne’s hometown productions have been exported to Milan this season, fashion magazines continue to hemorrhage jobs, labels like Obedient Sons and Daughters have hung "Be Back in Two Years" signs on their design office doors, and an industry crowd awaits the revelatory but exits many men’s shows looking, well, Xanaxed. The accompanying music did little to quell the paranoia, what with pianists banging through Brahms cadenzas on out-of-tune uprights and shrill recordings of minimalist string quartets piped over collections destined for the Barneys New York Barker Hangar sale in Santa Monica. That’s if they make it to production.