BWW Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Hershey Area Playhouse
Spring Awakening is a 2006 rock musical about questioning authority, blooming sexuality, and rebellion. While set in 19th century Germany, its music, dance, and attitude are modern. The show's songs are electric and in your face; movement is sharp and aggressive. In a nutshell, Spring Awakening is the show that American Idiot aspires to be.
The show is set on a bare stage, using a few movable, wooden boxes to suggest furniture as needed. Director, Nicholas Ecker makes great use of the stage with imaginative blocking that effectively tells the story. Ecker's direction is complimented by Kelley Hertzler's choreography. There was a lot of foot stomping and fist swinging to reflect the frustration and anger felt by many of the teens. Conversely, Hertzler incorporates American Sign Language in a thoughtful and tender manner throughout the show. This was a great choice to further highlight how the adults in the piece "turned a deaf ear" to their children.
Emile Leyes stars as the naive Wendla, a young girl who has no understanding about sex. She learns through experience since the adults in her life choose to shelter her rather than share the facts about her growing curiosity. She enters into a relationship with the more knowledgeable, Melchoir, played by Ben Eisenhour. Leyes and Eisenhour have good chemistry together. Their scenes together are poignant.
Sean Reynolds plays Moritz, who is Melchoir's best friend. Moritiz is also overly sheltered about the facts of life and relies upon his friend for guidance and information. Reynolds gives us a sympathetic character, especially considered how much he is victimized in one way or another throughout the story.
The main three teens are supplemented by a very talented supporting cast of young men (Travis Gipe, Kaylor Long, Jason Pecho, Schreiber) and women (Sylvia Garner, Elena Rosetto, Shelby Snyder, Amanda Viands). Most of these characters have their own storyline, and extend the themes of the show by exploring issues such as homosexuality, masturbation, and sexual abuse. Sadly, many of them do not have the knowledge or understanding to address these mature topics in a healthy manner.
The group numbers were my favorites, especially the edgy "Totally Fucked". This number allows the young people to abandon their inhibitions and confront their sexuality in both song and dance. It was effective and relevant, yet never crass.
A special shout out to Bob Eisenhour and Larissa Curcio who played all the "grown up" roles in the show. I got a kick out of the fact that not a lot was done via costume or presentation to differentiate among the parents, teachers, and other community members. Theatrically, it emphasizes the fact that all authority figures are basically the same. They are repressive, controlling, and have no understanding of youth. I kept waiting for the opening chords of Pink Floyd's The Wall to start playing. (Hey, teacher! Leave those kids alone!)
While Spring Awakening is full of mature themes and adult situations, they are handled in a thoughtful and supportive way. Most of the issues of this show are as relevant today as they were in the 19th century Germany. Unfortunately, some things never change.
If I had one complaint, it was the run of this show is too short. There are only four performances, running through May 19. This is a great show, and an important one too. Go see it while you can.
Tickets and more information can be found on the theater's website.