Spring Awakening Tour Review: Cleveland
To create a touring production of a Broadway hit, the production team usually has to scale down large sets, trim the corners and sometimes cut down the cast. With the "Spring Awakening" touring production, it was just the opposite: the show would have to be made bigger. Gone would be the cozy feel of The Eugene O'Neill Theater, replaced with larger two-and-three tiered touring houses with bigger stages, and as a result the set would have to be expanded, creating more of an imposing feel than the original classroom did. But, more than any logistical problems, the question became this: Would "Spring Awakening" even be viable as a touring show? Larger touring houses would hardly create the same intimate atmosphere of the Broadway version, and perhaps the show would simply not work in such a macro environment. Not only that, but the love/hate relationship the edgy show has with its viewers might become more hate than love in cities and states still colored red on CNN's big board. And with the Broadway production vacating The Eugene O'Neill in a few months, the stakes were higher than ever.
Luckily, it turns out there was no need for the worry.
First, a confession. The last time I saw the show on Broadway, with Hunter Parrish headlining, I didn't feel entranced as I once was. It was still quite good, but seemed a frayed around the edges, with the plot holes and scattershot style of the production more apparent than ever. It felt like the spell of the show was slowly but surely dissipating. Imagine my ecstatic surprise to see The Life and vivacity of the original production apparent in spades on the touring production, which is currently housed in Cleveland's Palace Theater.
The plotline of "Spring Awakening" focuses on a group of adolescents from the generation fated to become the parents of the Nazis. Their lives are none-too-enjoyable, what with sexual oppression, suicide, teen pregnancy, abortion, parents raping their children and every adult seeming to say nothing other than "Blah blah blah blah blah" while destroying his or her child's life.
We focus in on the brave thinker Melchior (Perry Sherman for this performance, Kyle Riabko usually), the curious and innocent Wendla (Christy Altomare) and the desperate Moritz (Blake Bashoff, from the Broadway production) and how they interact, love and lose in their sometimes-beautiful-but-mostly-terrifying life.
Though it seems almost sacrilegious to admit, this very well might be the strongest ensemble in "Spring Awakening's" history. As a whole, the cast is not only energetic and frighteningly talented, but they also embody a sense of innocence mixed with early maturity that has never been evident before. Sure, the original cast (almost all of which have become stars in their own right) might have had more individual stand-outs, but they never seemed even close to innocent: They were adults playing children. And the final Broadway cast was very innocent-perhaps too innocent for the material. The touring cast is a perfect mix of both, and interprets the material in new and interesting ways that remain true to the original book and score. More than that, they function best as an ensemble, not just a group of performers who happen to be acting together on the same stage.
Sherman brilliantly leads the production with charisma and the voice of an angel. He's found the heart of the character, and plays him as an adult trapped in a young body who does not quite understand these feelings that come over him no matter how much research he does or how many books he reads. While currently an understudy for the role Riabko plays, Sherman has real leading man charisma and deserves a major role in this production or another project as soon as possible.
Bashoff had a likewise difficult task of following John Gallagher (who won the Tony) as the troubled Moritz. He didn't simply copy Gallagher, but made the character his own on the Broadway stage. Sometimes when an actor, especially a young actor, plays the same character too long they begin to seemed bored in the role, but the opposite has been the case for Bashoff. He's found new layers to Moritz and new meanings in lines that were once throwaway, and perhaps has actually eclipsEd Gallagher and created the definitive interpretation of Moritz.
Altomare plays Wendla as a fighter. Instead of just falling into place and embracing the role of women in her time, Altomare delivers lines as a challenge to whatever character she is speaking to. It's quite a change from Lea Michelle and Alexandra Soscha, who played up Wendla's fragility above all else, but it still works, and when her fate is delivered in the second act it is all the more heartbreaking.
The rest of the cast blends beautifully, stepping forward for their moment in the spotlight before seamlessly returning to their respective stage seat. Steffi D is so good while singing "Blue Wind" and trying to convince Moritz to come home with her that you have to wonder how we have never heard of this soon-to-be-a-star before. Sarah Hunt, as Martha, breaks your heart with "The Dark I Know Well."
And then, of course, there is the music. While stand-outs like "Totally F***ed" and "Whispering" remain standouts, the cast really invests themselves in "My Junk" and "Touch Me," bringing a new sense of comedy to the first and depth to the second. There isn't really a clunker in the bunch.
Bigger and perhaps even better than before, the "Spring Awakening" tour has managed to transcend the Broadway version and become its own wonderful entity. It's an amazing version of a great show, and it will be sure to rightfully convert a whole new generation of The Guilty Ones.
From This Author Robert Taylor