BWW Reviews: SPRING AWAKENING Totally Rocks at Raleigh Little Theatre
Raleigh Little Theatre is proving that it's not afraid to take a risk, and it's paying off in a big way. Their current production is the 2007 Tony Winner Spring Awakening, and RLT is out to prove that it can rock with the best of them.
The show follows a group of teenagers as they make their way in oppressive 1891 Germany. Melchior and Wendla are dealing with their newfound feelings for one another - Melchior is uniquely aware of the realities of love and sex, whereas Wendla is left clueless by her overprotective mother. Their actions have consequences which cannot be undone. Moritz is Melchior's best friend, and he is at the same time struggling to pass the academic term and struggling to understand why his body is acting out in new and different ways, thanks to adolescence. The actions of the adults in his life impact him greatly. Their friends are also dealing with their own host of issues ranging from puppy love to sexual abuse. The alt-rock score by Duncan Sheik, with lyrics by Steven Sater, is brilliant. The way music is woven into the show is unlike any musical to come before. The songs do not advance the plot - rather they provide an inner monologue of sorts, a way to understand how the characters feel, which, it turns out is not that different from how teens feel today.
Spring Awakening is a personal favorite of mine. In my humble opinion, Spring Awakening is the most groundbreaking show of a generation - no other show did so much to break down walls in terms of what musicals can be about, how music can be used to enhance a story, and how individuals relate to the show. The music is captivating, the scenes intriguing, and the lyrics complex. Because of those things, the show is one that many (like myself) feel compelled to see multiple times as they explore the multitude of intellectual layers therein.
Raleigh Little Theatre's mounting of Spring Awakening is quite impressive, largely due to excellent singers, quality direction, and superb energy. The high-caliber of the cast's vocal skills is evident by the lead actors (especially notable is Brishelle Miller as Wendla - her voice is well-trained and brings life to the role), but the point is really driven home by the entire ensemble. There are moments where ensemble members simply shine. For example, at the end of the alt-rock ballad "Touch Me," Matthew Reda shines. His character, Georg, is a teen who lusts after his piano teacher, and the end of "Touch Me" has Reda producing riffs which will cause you to literally drop your jaw. It is, simply, beautiful. Another outstanding moment is the haunting song "The Dark I Know Well," in which teen girls Martha and Ilse confess that their lives at home are far from happy, and the two actresses, Hannah Slaughter and Sarah Winter, come together to create a chilling moment of musicality. A third and final example of the stellar ensemble is an act two scene and song ("Word of Your Body" reprise) between Parker Perry and Timothy Malboeuf, whose characters Hanschen and Ernst come to terms with their as-yet latent desires. Perry also stands out in the act one number "My Junk," despite his character doing things most kids wouldn't want their parents seeing them do on stage. The two, Perry and Malboeuf, in addition to excellent vocal skills, have very mature comic timing, which helps them blend comedic and serious moments fluidly.
The strength of the entire ensemble cast is a testament to director C. Glen Matthews, who clearly created an environment which allowed the actors to be comfortable exploring the material, but led them with clear direction and vision for the piece. The show flows nicely, and the pace is excellent. The cast seem to understand their characters and are clearly willing to take risks on stage.
The design elements of the show are nice as well. The set, designed by Thomas Mauney, gives audiences a peek into the places a teenager might go to get away - a bedroom, an attic, a garage, etc. The things that may be special to a teenager are evident in a way that touches nicely on nostalgia. The musicians of the orchestra, which is visible upstage, are as high-caliber as the vocal talent. There were several microphone and sound mixing issues opening night, but they were largely resolved by the middle of act one. Some costumes are underwhelming, but are, by and large, appropriate for the era.
Spring Awakening is one for the ages, and Raleigh Little Theatre does the work justice. The show is one that will hopefully encourage open communication, especially between parents and teenagers. Just because the show is about teenagers certainly does not mean that there's nothing in it for other audience members - the themes and messages of the show are universal. It plays into our memories of teen years as well as pointing out that times have not changed as much as we think. It is thought-provoking, intellectual, and certainly worth your visit.