BWW Reviews: SPRING AWAKENING at Olney Theatre Center is Exhilarating
How appropriate that the Olney Theatre Center presents SPRING AWAKENING just as pitchers and catchers arrive for Spring Training in Florida and Arizona. Baseball is in the air in both Baltimore and DC and at the Olney Theatre Center...what a way to begin thinking of springtime then presenting the winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2007, SPRING AWKENING.
I remember seeing the original Broadway cast which featured three actors who have gone on to much acclaim: John Gallagher, Jr. (who also appeared on Broadway in RABBIT HOLE) as Moritz and that terrific duo from the hit television series "Glee", Lea Michele (Wendla) and Jonathan Groff (Melchior). I have to admit I loved this show at first viewing, mesmerized by the clever choreography of Tony winner Bill T. Jones (I still recall his running down the aisle to accept his well-deserved award).
I was so excited when I first read that OTC would be presenting SPRING AWKENING. It takes a lot of courage in this era of an aging subscriber base used to seeing CINDERELLA, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, and many other mainstream musicals to bring this musical to the Montgomery County suburbs. This is obviously an attempt to bring in a younger crowd and I hope they succeed.
Let me state from the beginning, SPRING AWAKENING is NO mainstream musical. But don't be scared off . The musical is based on play by Frank Wedekind written in 1891 but was banned for nearly a hundred years continually due to its subject matter that includes every aspect of sexuality including homosexuality, abortion, masturbation and sadomasochism. Do not let this topics scare you from attending. Be bold and be entertained by an amazing cast of characters under the skilled direction of Steve Cosson who has assembled a group of actors that make the Energizer Bunny seem lethargic.
According to the notes in the original cast recording, lyricist and Book Writer Steven Sater, explained that he and composer Duncan Sheik conceived SPRING AWAKENING as both a piece of musical theater and a pop/rock album. And you can see firsthand how well they have succeeded in this endeavor.
I suggest you listen to the Broadway cast recording prior to attending since you will become more acquainted with the lovely and enthusiastic melodies and it also includes all of the lyrics. I love that the OTC has the CD for sale ($20) as well as the libretto ($15). They even sell the Volume 3 of "Glee".
Once again OTC has assembled a fine 9 piece orchestra under the wonderful baton of Christopher Youstra (also playing Keyboards and Accordion) which I was thrilled to see included a violin (and Electric Violin),Viola, and Cello along with both Acoustic and Electrical Guitars. They sound fabulous. It is also very clever to put them Stage Right behind what seems to be floor to ceiling plexiglass. If you want to enjoy watching Youstra do his magic...ask for seats Stage Left (right side looking at the stage).
Playing the role of Wendla, a naive and inquisitive teenager whose attempts to learn about sex from her conservative mother is unsuccessful, is the wonderful Alyse Alan Louis. In a previous musical, Louis was found alone on stage and singing the lyrics, "I Had a Dream...A Song to Sing." Yes, she played Sophie in the Broadway production of MAMMA MIA! opposite the wonderful Beth Leavel (Donna) who recently was so superb in the HAIRSPRAY concert with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Here once again, Louis opens a show by herself singing a wonderful rendition of "Momma Who Bore Me". There are four wonderful actors who help her out: Dayna Marie Quincy (Anna), MaryLee Adams (Martha), Gracie Jones (Thea) and the incredible Maggie Connelly (as the Bohemian Ilse).
Leading the male cast are Matthew Kacergis (a superb Melchior) and Parker Drown (who tackles the difficult role of Moritz beautifully). These two are consummate actors and singers. Other stand-outs are Austin Vandyke Colby (Hanschen), David Landstrom (Ernst), Chris Rudy (Georg) and Christopher Mueller (Otto).
Playing the "evil" adults are Ethan Watermeier and Liz Mamana who play multiple roles.