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Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Garden Theater

SPRING AWAKENING’S timeless message still resonates with its

Review: SPRING AWAKENING  at Garden Theater

It has been over 130 years since German playwright Frank Wedekind first published SPRING AWAKENING. In 2006, the play was reinvented when Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater turned it into a musical.

Yet, as the Short North Stage's production of the musical proved once again, teenagers are still teenagers. The musical, which stars Lake Wilburn (Melchoir), Emma Rose Johnson (Wendla) and Michael E. Lee (Sage) (Moritz), delves into the dark turbulence many teenagers still navigate such as sexuality, self-doubt, depression, academics, parental pressure, abortion, and suicide. These issues, as it turns out, were just as prevalent in Wedekind's time as they are Sheik and Sater's. In a master stroke by director Edward Carignan, the production shows those topics, unfortunately, are still resonating with today's youth.

After a COVID marred opening weekend, SNS has extended the show's run through June 4 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).

At a German boarding school, Melchoir is at the epicenter of his best friend Moritz and his love interest Wendla's problems. Moritz is failing at school because he is haunted by sensual dreams which he doesn't understand. The more knowledgeable Melchoir illustrates a how-to manual (complete with pictures) for his sexually repressed friend. Later, when the innocent Wendla asks Melchoir to share his knowledge with her, he offers her the experience first-hand.

Melchoir's "help" backfires in the second act. His journal is found among the belongs of Moritz after he commits suicide and Moritz is expelled. While he is away at reform school, he learns his lesson with Wendla resulted in a pregnancy and other complications.

What makes the show work is the chemistry of the cast. Johnson's innocence and Wilburn's worldly knowledge makes the pair a convincing couple. Their harmony in songs like "The Word of Your Body" is palatable and the heat they generate in their love scene makes the audience squirm uncomfortably in their seats.

A tremendous cast flanks the show's two focal points. Lee nails down the complicated Moritz and his powerful rendition of "I Don't Do Sadness" in the second act is one of the show's many highlights. Krista Stauffer (who plays all the adult women roles) and Thom Christopher Warren (who takes on all the adult male roles) seemingly float effortlessly through diverse parts as the grieving parents to the manipulative schoolmasters.

Zuri Clarno (Martha), Hunter Minor (Hanschen), Nicholas Bradley (Ernst) and Sydney Freihofer (Isle) offer outstanding performances while Nicholas Brunet, Dominic Catrone, Lillian Doll (Thea), Tessa Druhan, Phoenix Gray, Shannon Lane (Anna), Carter Minor (Otto), Lorelei Roeger, Sara Ashleigh Tuohy and Ethan Zink (Georg) round out this extraordinary cast.

Under the direction of conductor Eric Alsford (keyboards), the orchestra of Olivia Conley (guitar), Robin D. Coolidge Jr. (cello), Alexander Locke (viola), William Mayer (drums), Mad Richards (guitar/violin, and Eric Stratton (bass) fill out the lush, powerful score.

Carignan finds a way to bring the show into its current audience where the cast interact with planted audience members and closing with Melchoir passing his controversial journal off to a teenager. It is a poignant reminder despite the many advances in culture and attitudes, many of the problems in today's society have century older roots.

SPRING AWAKENING continues its run with 7 p.m. shows May 19-21, May 26-28, and June 3-4, with 2 p.m. matinees on May 22 and 29 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street). Call 614-725-4025 for details.

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From This Author - Paul Batterson