BWW Reviews: SPRING AWAKENING Offers the Opportunity to Experience the Confusion Known as Puberty
SPRING AWAKENING is the 2007 Tony Award winning rock musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind's 1891 expressionist play about the trials and tribulations as well as the exhilaration of the teen years, exploring the confusion and desperation that ensue when the onrushing tide of hormones meets the ignorance of children. As presented at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica, skillfully directed by Aric Martin, the production is something you will experience rather than just watch, especially since we all have memories of our own tough adjustment period as puberty took over our young bodies.
When Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik set out to adapt Wedekind's play into a musical, they vowed to stay true to the original intent even though the play is a harsh critique of the sexual repression of young people. Due to the explicit depiction of children, the production history of the original play is littered with protest and censorship. SPRING AMAKENING presents a unique musical experience as the characters share their struggles through song, immersing the audience in the rock concert fantasy world of our troubled teens. Certainly the characters will bring up memories we sometimes wish we could forget.
Every actor in the cast brings remarkable theatricality to their roles and exquisite harmony to the songs. The cast features Corey Affron, Joanna Churgin, Julian Comeau, Quinn D'Andrea, Melissa Deni, Kaitlyn Fajilan, Matt Harrison, Annie Claire Hudson, Hunter Larsen, Kira Lindsay, Andrew Mackin, Frankie Rodriguez, Tommie Russell, Christian Soto, Aliya Stuart, Justin Yu, and Zach Zagoria.
The creative team includes Anne Gesling (Music Director), Lauren Blair (Choreographer), Thomas A. Brown (Set Designer), William Wilday (Lighting Designer extraordinaire), and W. Joseph Anderson (Producer).
It's Germany, 1891. The beautiful young Wendla (Quinn D'Anreas) explores her body and asks her mother (Joanna Churgin) where babies come from but gets only a superficial answer. The covering of her daughter's face to keep the truth from her may appear humorous, but not sharing the real facts of life leads to devastating decisions on the part of both mother and daughter.
Elsewhere, the brilliant and fearless young Melchior (Julian Comeau) defends his buddy Moritz (rock star Zach Zagoria), a boy so traumatized by puberty he can't concentrate on anything. Their rousing "The Bitch of Living" with well choreographed "chair dancing" certainly portrays the sexual angst of these boys. Nicely arranged on opposite sides of the stage are two familiar scenarios: a teen crush on a piano teacher and a father grumbling that his teenage son spends too much time in the bathroom satisfying himself. Sound familiar?
One afternoon in the woods, Wendla and Melchior discover a desire unlike anything they've ever felt. Hiding out in a cave on "The Mirror-Blue Night," Melchior convinces Wendla that having sex is a natural and normal thing to do, which of course it is. But their lack of knowledge leads to problems neither one imagined such an experience could bring to their lives. The scene is beautifully presented with both actors full clothed, proving that eroticism does not have to include nudity.
The heartbreaking "Don't Do Sadness" and "Blue Wind" duet by Zagoria and Aliya Stuart (as Ilse) reveals family secrets better left hidden. Zagoria and Stuart share moments of real tenderness when she recognizes another damaged soul and attempts to reach out and save Moritz. But he is too far gone at that point to accept her help. The sadness expressed by each actor was wonderfully communicated as each deposited a flower as they visited Moritz's grave. Teen suicide is discussed openly today, but image how controversial the topic must have been in 1891 when the play was first presented.
And certainly the topic of homosexuality would have outraged most of those original theatergoers. Corey Affron (Hanschen) and Frankie Rodriquez (Ernst) are adorable as boys learning to deal with their attraction to each other in "The Word of Your Body," and thank goodness their affection seems so normal to today's audiences.
SPRING AWAKENING celebrates the unforgettable journey from youth to adulthood with a power, poignancy, and passion that you will never forget, especially evident in big production numbers "Totally Fucked," "The Guilty Ones" and "The Song of Purple Summer" which the entire cast present with powerful harmonies and stylized movements which enhance the emotional content that will touch your heart.
WARNING: This is not a show for young children as there is coarse language, adult themes, and sexual references.
SPRING AWAKENING, Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater, Music by Ducan Sheik, Based on the Play by Frank Wedekind. DIrected by Aric Martin at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Boulevard (Pico @ 27th Street), Santa Monica, CA 90405, March 8 through April 5, 2014, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Reserved seats $25-35 online at www.morgan-wixson.org or call the theatre box office at 310-828-7519.
Photos by Joel Castro