Review: 'Spring Awakening' rocks on

The high drama of sex and teen angst set to a melodic rock ’n’ roll score are what give “Spring Awakening,” which began its post-Broadway national tour at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre this week, an undeniable universal appeal.

That the show is set in a small German town in the 1890s, and based on a German play from the period, adds even more to its quirky charm.

The striking contrast between the setting and super-charged tunes by Duncan Sheik (music) and Steven Sater (lyrics, book) is among the reasons for the 2007 Tony Award-winning musical’s popularity. The juxtaposition of the period costumes, conscious use of microphones (the performers pull them out of their clothes, then launch into song) and decidedly modern choreography lend the show a unique urgency.

But its other main draw is, simply, plain ol’ feeling. Not big on plot but utterly overflowing with sentiment — from joy to anger to fright to sadness —- “Spring Awakening” tells the story of a handsome young rebel schoolboy who dares to stand up for a friend who’s unsure of himself, and who dares to fall in love with a young innocent girl he touches.

Not for small youngsters, the show presents a no-nonsense, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always unflinching treatment of sex, and the song titles are similarly bold: “The B—- of Living,” “My Junk,” “Touch Me,” “Totally F——.”

They work. From the sensual opener “Mama Who Bore Me” to the uplifting “The Song of the Purple Summer,” the musical serves pure emotion, the kind to which anyone who’s gone through adolescence can relate. (Fans of Sheik’s radio hits will be moved by the string-heavy instrumentation that often soars.)

The actors sell the songs. Teen heartthrob Kyle Riabko is perfectly strident Melchior, the guy who speaks frankly about sex, while Blake Bashoff oozes adolescent angst as Moritz, the kid who can’t find his place in the world.

As Wendla, the girl who learns quite a bit about love, Christy Altomore captures the confusion and yearning of teen years.

The boys and girls in the rest of the cast beautifully round out the vocal harmonies. Playing all of the adults in the cast — from the abusive Latin teacher to an unsympathetic mother — are Henry Stram and Angela Reed.

If you go

Spring Awakening

Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday; closes Oct. 12
Tickets: $30 to $99
Contact: (415) 512-7770; www.shnsf.com; www.ticketmaster.com.

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