BWW Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Downtown Cabaret Theatre
On Saturday, March 18, I had the pleasure of viewing SPRING AWAKENING at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, in Bridgeport, CT. The stellar acting, singing, lighting, and choreography was enhanced by many of the cast members making multiple entrances through the audience, sometimes singing on their way to the stage, always in character, and clearly enjoying their roles, while drawing the audience right in.
The talented vocalists and skilled musicians combine to create the melancholy and ominous feel behind the music written by Duncan Sheik, setting the tone of the story in a way that captivates the audience and reveals the deep and often dark feelings of the characters. The song, "I Believe," a full ensemble number at the end of the first act showcases particularly strong harmonies.
The story, set in 1890s Germany, is relevant and highly thought provoking from a modern American perspective. This musical centers on a group of teenagers who are given a strict set of rules and expectations, but from parents and teachers who are dismissive of the teenagers' valid feelings and curiosity, and in some cases outright abusive towards the teenagers. Despite making a pretense of Christianity, the adults fail to tell the youths about the God who loves them and wants what is best for them, while they also fail to model God's love towards the teenagers. These youths are made to feel ashamed of their awakening sexual desires, and not told about God's grace that would enable them to control those feelings in a responsible and morally sound manner that respects the opposite gender and honors their future marriage. The teens are never given the example of the beauty of a loving relationship between two people whose courtship and then marriage show trust and obedience to the all-loving and all-knowing God. Thus, the rebellious youth backlash becomes an obvious consequence of a poor upbringing that places rules ahead of love, and a bad education system that places a stronger focus on the reputation of the school, than on giving the students what they truly need.
The central male protagonist, a teenager named Melchior, exemplifies the mindset of someone who has thoroughly rejected authority and truth, fancying himself to have life figured out on his own, yet unknowingly lives in submission to his own sexual desires, a trend that is all too prominent among disenfranchised youth, today, and always destructive to their own lives, and to society at large. Actor Eric Regan brings Melchior to life in a realistic way that will undoubtedly invoke emotion from audience members, regardless of whether they are for Melchior or against him.
The most profound line was delivered by the lead female character, Wendla, "What serves each of us best is what serves all of us best." Wendla is a character who shows naivety without ditziness, a rare personality for fictional teenage female characters, which makes actress Madeleine Tommins' convincing portrayal of Wendla all the more impressive.
The most powerful scene involves teenager Moritz who was phenomenally portrayed by Robert Peterpaul. Moritz was trying to converse with his father about his grades, only to be aggressively slapped across the face, multiple times, as Moritz continued to try in vain to gain approval and acceptance from his father who would have none of it. The proximity of the actors, perfectly timed sound effects, and totally believable reactions from Moritz, including crying, invoke strong feelings of sympathy and genuine concern for Moritz, as Robert Peterpaul's acting was so strong that the audience feels Moritz's physical and emotional pain.
SPRING AWAKENING will continue to run at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, on weekends, through April 2. I recommend this play, but for mature adult audiences only, as there is a lot of profanity, sexual content, and a lack of positive solutions offered to teenagers who struggle with emotional pain. For mature adults who are into darkly themed entertainment done well, you will find that this Downtown Cabaret Theatre play will exceed your expectations with strong acting and vocal performances from a talented cast of people who clearly enjoy being a part of this brilliantly presented production.