BWW Reviews: SPRING AWAKENING is Mesmerizing at Beck Center for the Arts

Mesmerizing SPRING AWAKENING at Beck

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circlt)

On the way out of SPRING AWAKENING at Beck Center, my 16-year old grandson, known as the kid reviewer, said, "That was awesome.  The singing, the acting, the music, the choreography, the staging, were all great!"  Yes, Alex, you just experienced one of the finest theatrical works you may ever see. 

SPRING AWAKENING, the Steven Sater (book and lyrics)-Duncan Sheik (music), folk-infused rock music drama, is based on a 1892 play by Frank Wedekind of Germany.  The subject matter, which centers on teenagers on the road to self-discovery, portrays abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide.  It was so controversial that its original source was banned for public view for over one hundred years.

 The play is a powerful indictment against late 19th century Germany, where strict rules regarding right and wrong, and wide-spread hypocrisy were rampant.  Sex wasn't discussed, the reasons for actions weren't revealed, and adults held strict control.  It is relevant  to modern day American where the religious right sometimes parallels the machinations of the adults in Wedekind's script.

The play consists mainly of spoken and sung dialogues among the children, with an interspersing of voices of the adults.  Wedekind has given the voices the ability to open our eyes, in gripping ways, to the joys and sorrows, hopes and despair, and struggles and the resulting tragedies.  Tragedies in which the most promising children are sacrificed due a lack of appreciation and understanding from their teachers and parents.

We meet Melchior, intelligent, handsome and charismatic, who sees the corruption around him, but is powerless to change the events.  There is Moritz, physically stronger but psychologically frail.  He's the product of a harsh father, and is pushed to near insanity when he fails an exam and eventually is led to suicide.  Wendla is in love with Melchior, and naively becomes pregnant by him.  Her fall from grace is based on her lack of knowledge about human sexuality, and still believing that "children are brought by storks."  She, too, becomes a tragic product of her culture's rules.   We also view Ilse, who runs away from a sexually abusive home, another product of the rules of the game of life.

We are left at the end of the epic with Melchior, his friends all destroyed, needing to find a reason to go on with his life.

This is a relevant play that has already, and should open additional eyes of the hypocritically blind to the need for sex education, understanding of the teenage mind and the hypocrisy of developing illogical and unbending rules for the sake of tradition.

The Broadway production won eight Tony Awards in 2007.  The Baldwin Wallace-Beck Center collaboration, under the keen eye of Victoria Bussert, is as good as the professional shows I saw on Broadway and on-tour.  This is Bussert at her best!

The staging is creative, encompassing, focused.  The pacing is fine…slow when necessary, fast when appropriate.  Ryan Fielding Garrett's band, which is on stage during the entire production, expertly backs up, rather than drowning out the singers, the vocal blends are excellent, and even though several of the cast don't have superb singing voices…they so well interpret the words of the songs, that it matters naught. 

Zach Adkins, a young Brad Pitt look-alike, is compelling as Melchior.  He displays a complete understanding of the mental and emotional workings of the role.  As we see him standing alone at the end of the play we can only feel strong emotional bonding with the real person Adkins has created.  His song All That's Known is appealing, while Left Behind is emotionally revealing.

James Penca is spot-on as the conflicted Moritz.  He develops a young man unable to fight off the power of his father and members of the school staff, who demand what Moritz is unable to give.  His The Bitch of Living is a show highlight, as is Don't Do Sadness.

Pretty Kyra Kennedy makes for a perfect Wendla.  She creates a complete character who displays appropriate naivety and passion.  Her Mama Who Bore Me was a strong curtain raiser and Those You've Known, a trio with Adkins and Penca, was tear-inducing.

The chorus was excellent, weaving in an out of the scenes with clarity and concentration.

Gregory Daniel's choreography, Jeff Herrmann's set and light designs, Richard Ingraham's sound design, and Alison Garrigan's costumes all make SPRING AWAKENING a special evening of theatre.

The show is advertised as 17 and older.  When I asked Alex if he was uncomfortable, especially in the presence of his grandparents, he gave a, "no way" response.  You have to know your teen, but the lessons to be learned from this script are great.  In fact, if the characters in this play had known what they could have learned from being exposed to this material, there would have been no need for Wedekind to write the play.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  SPRING AWAKENING is an emotionally stirring, relevant, and well staged production.  This is not a should see, it's a must see presentation.  Bravo!  Bravo!  Bravo!

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From This Author Roy Berko