BWW Reviews: SPRING AWAKENING at Balagan Theatre - A First "Must-See" of the New Year
Let me just start out saying that I don't like this show. Right from the moment it first came out and I first heard the cast album, I thought it was forced and a little pretentious. Then I saw a touring production and came to understand it more and I got where they were going with it but still found it a little forced and pretentious. That is until I saw Balagan's production which was packed with so much unbelievable talent and honesty that I can't help but change my tune on this show and proclaim it as one of the first must see shows of the new year.
With music by Duncan Sheik and Lyrics by Steven Sater the show is a coming of age and awakening (hence the title) of sexuality of a group of German teens in the 1890's. Based on the 1892 play by Frank Wedekind, we follow these prep school students all with their own urges and issues as they come to find who they are. Problem is many of them are kept fairly well in the dark as to what their urges could mean as their conservative parents and teachers forbid any discussions of them. But as with all teens the discussions happen anyway amongst themselves, but without much guidance or foundation, sometimes the urges and information get blown out of proportion. You might think this would be a very difficult subject to get across to today's audiences until you see that the problems they faced are really not so different from those of today's "enlightened" teens.
Now like I said, the show can come across as a bit forced depending on how it's presented, but director Eric Ankrim has instilled such a sense of subtle realism to the piece that every performance comes across as heartbreakingly sincere. Diana Huey as the overly sheltered Wendla is a blinding force of nature with her powerhouse voice and devastatingly beautiful character. Brian Earp as the disillusioned golden boy, Melchior, matches her intensity note for note with equally stunning vocals and tons of charisma. I also need to mention a supporting player, Justin Huertas who not only performs brilliantly as one of the students, Hanschen, but also would pop back into the amazing orchestra, lead by music director Kimberly Dare, to fill in on the cello. Talk about pulling double duty. Kirsten Delohr Helland as Ilse and Brianne Wylie as Martha delivered a wrenching rendition of "The Dark I Know Well". And I cannot forget Helland and Jerick Hoffer as Moritz who paired up for a gorgeous duet of "Blue Wind" and "Don't Do Sadness".
And let's talk a little about Hoffer. I've now seen him at Balagan, Seattle Shakes, Theater Off Jackson, and even Teatro ZinZanni. He just keeps popping up everywhere and in a wide variety of roles. And all I can say is, he makes me angry. No one should be this young and yet this incredibly talented. No matter the role he's in he manages to completely disappear inside it and turn it into a bit of theatrical excellence you cannot take your eyes off. And the jealous part of me would absolutely hate him if the rest of me didn't so much love watching him. He's kind of one of those unsung gems of Seattle theater and I for one intend to start the singing about him.
But let's not ignore some of the back stage elements. Perfectly toned costumes by Chelsea Blum and astounding choreography by Lexi Scamehorn and Kathryn Van meter. Other than the forced characterizations of the touring production I saw the choreography seemed to want to bang the audience over the head as to how hip and edgy they were. I swear at one point the tour pulled moves form Madonna's "Vogue" for no reason. But Scamehorn and Van Meter managed the edgy and energy without resorting to cliché. This is another large reason the show worked so well for me this time around.
So let's see, flawless cast (and I do mean ALL of them), astonishing direction (both musically and staging), incredible choreography, costumes, everything. I must admit I was dubious about a smaller company doing this show but if they can make me like and be moved by (yes, I even cried during a few numbers) a show I really didn't care for, then I really have to give them props. And with such a short run you really need to get out there to see this one NOW!