BWW Reviews: Marriott Lincolnshire's Daring SPRING AWAKENING

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Art means sometimes taking a risk. Theater is no less as entertaining if it challenges you. We are in the midst of witnessing a monumental theatrical risk from the Marriott Theatre with their limited run production of the Tony Award-winning musical SPRING AWAKENING.

The show is handsomely cast, features terrific ensemble and solo voices and a mostly string orchestra. In fact, the score has probably never sounded better (and I saw the original Broadway production early in its run).

The show, itself based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 controversial play, remains in and of itself controversial due to the frank nature in which it addresses budding teenage sexuality. Things on stage really don't get beyond the PG-13 territory, but that didn't stop one season subscriber near me from describing the show as "X-rated." Me thinks the lady is missing the point of the show.

The show is set in the late 1800's in German. Wendla (a poised Eliza Palasz) is a curious and naive girl who wants nothing more than for her mother (Hollis Resnik; Resnik also plays all the other adult female roles in the production) where babies come from. Her mother is less than forthcoming with the information. The opening number "Mama Who Bore Me" is still one of a young woman trying to make sense of what is happening to her body. Palasz's delivery of the lyric is sublime and heartbreaking as one usually knows where ignorance will lead protagonists in plays.

She has a crush on Melchior (a handsome and earnest Patrick Rooney). Melchior is a bit too bright for his own good and his hunger for knowledge has driven him to abandon any Christian principles. Though it comes from an honest place, his sharing of the knowledge he has learned ends up being the downfall for both Wendla and his best friend, Moritz (Ben Barker).

Director/choreographer Aaron Thielen's handling of the material is done delicately. One particularly haunting moment is with the use of shadow and Anthony Churchill's projections as Wendla's friend Martha (Adhana Cemone Reid) and social outcast Ilse (Betsy Stewart) each reveal the abuse each has suffered at their hands of their father in "The Dark I know Well." Both Reid and Stewart lace their singing with enough pain and anger that make the song unforgettable.

Stewart really holds her own against Barker when they duet with "Don't Do Sadness" and "Blue Wind." She has a smokey quality to her voice that is quite appealing. There's a sense of sweetness and longing to Stewart's voice that comes out with each note, particularly in the finale "The Song of Purple Summer."

As Otto and Hanschen, Nate Lewellyn and Brian Bohr find some light comedic moments as they eventually given in to their mutual attraction to each other. The reprise of "The Word of Your Body" featured Otto seducing Hanschen with a smoldering kiss that caused more than a few older patrons around me to nervously wiggle in their seats.

Some of the numbers were missing a bit of the heat and anger, however. Barker's Moritz never reaches the level of punk danger that the character quite did on Broadway and in some weird way, the show's ultimate number of defiance, "Totally Fucked" didn't have the usual teenage angst and energy that I'm used to seeing (though perhaps I have become numb to its in-your-face aspects).

Still, the show is handsomely done and deserves to find an audience --even if that audience happens to be outside of the normal Marriott Theatre-goer. For them, they can have the rest of Marriott's season. For the rest of us, SPRING AWAKENING is beckoning to see if you are up for the challenge.

SPRING AWAKENING runs through Jan. 31 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Tickets, $50. 847-634-0200.



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From This Author Misha Davenport