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BWW Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Capitol City Theater (Nebraska)

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It's the b*tch of COVID. Spring Awakening goes online in Nebraska for all to know.

BWW Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Capitol City Theater (Nebraska)

While scrolling on Facebook one day, I came across a post from a theater offering a streamed production of Spring Awakening. As I am a hardcore fan of the show, my interest was piqued. Then, I saw a post from a person involved with the theater asking if anyone in the Philly area would provide a review. Given I haven't written a theater review in oh, let's say, eight months, to do so would give me a brief moment of normalcy.

When I communicated with the poster, Michael Lecher, I learned that the theater was not in our tri-state area, but rather in Lincoln, Nebraska. Capitol City Theater is an upstart theater company whose maiden production, the true life inspired play, Starkweather, was cut short by Nebraska's emergency health mandates. I personally know how difficult it is to start a new theater company. I can only imagine how those difficulties multiply when starting a business in a pandemic. But, theater is theater, and those faithful and dedicated to its very existence will always find a way to make the magic happen. Capitol City Theater hurriedly placed Starkweather online without hopes for much, but received an abundance in end. If that show worked online, then why wouldn't another show, say, Spring Awakening?

I visited the theater's website for the digital program (
https://www.capitolcity.live/cast) and do not see a listing for Stage Director. Perhaps programs and titles differ in Nebraska, and Jamie Webb, listed as Artistic and Music Director, is also the Stage Director. The person I communicated with initially is listed as the Producer. The website doesn't provide much information as to the company's background and personnel, so I'm going to make an assumption and say the people listed as the production team for Spring Awakening are (most likely?) the founders of the Capitol City Theater.

SPRING AWAKENING is known as a groundbreaking, modern musical that speaks to generations in a voice which is painfully truthful. Filled with deep, sustained emotion and awareness for both performer and audience member, it is a difficult production on both sides of the curtain. Its powerful music, lyrics and storyline require total sincerity, dedication and fearlessness in execution. The performers must delve deeply into their character's psyche to fully realize, then portray, both the spoken and non-spoken words swirling amidst the turmoil and angst of teens in late 19th-century Germany. This is not an easy task.

The set for this production was very stark - a large patterned rug with fringe on the floor, a small elevated walkway upstage, a few chairs, and two or three small stage boxes - keeping the play area of the 28 ft. x 22 ft. stage unadorned. Costumes resembled the given time period with a few modern(ish) looks that only other costumers may notice. The basic lighting design detracted only when performers' faces were in the dark. The streaming video quality wasn't of the highest caliber, and had a few sudden cuts to extreme close-ups that jarred the eye, but over all, it was easy to view. Sound was the greatest production obstacle for me. The mix of tracks and vocals needs finessing so that harmony lines don't overpower melody lines and female voice pitches blend with deeper male voices. At times, it was difficult to hear the music over/with the vocals.

The cast's varied levels of acting ability and presentation styles blended nicely into an overall balanced production. No one actor stood out. The relationships between parent/child, friend/friend, and friend/lover, were all managed with insight. It appeared each actor created a character arc and played their created arc to its full conclusion (even though we, the audience, don't get to see all of the conclusions). Cullen Wiley (EMC) as Moritz handled the required vocal nimbleness with aplomb. While his acting didn't grab my soul, his portrayal was even-handed and measured. Lauren Laass as Wendla and James Booker III as Melchoir paired well together. Ms. Laass instilled an appropriate level of curious naïveté for the unknowledgeable youngster. Mr. Booker gives the protagonist, Melchoir, an ample amount of maturity mixed with the passion of an explorative teen. Katherine Baier's tender vocal tone and sublime acting fit the role of Ilse nicely. In an unusual turn, there were three Adults: Megan Fangmeyer playing all Adult Female roles and the Adult Male role being split between Tim Andersen and Reed Westerhoff. I'm not certain why the Adult Male roles were shared or if doing so was necessary. The ensemble worked well together, each performing their solo spots agreeably.

The one issue I had was the lack of energy. Even the live audience's applauds were lackluster. Now, could that be due to watching via a streamed recorded show? Perhaps, but I'm not fully convinced since I watched the entire cast burst out with full enthusiasm, jumping and twirling around, during curtain call reprise. I didn't see a person listed as Choreographer, so I will again make an assumption and say the Director took on the duty, creating serviceable choreography with a mood more somber than other productions I've seen. The staging of the sexual encounter in the hayloft was respectfully presented (if the viewer subscribes to the theory the encounter was consensual), while the fight choreography failed to convince.

When using my regions categorization of theaters, Capitol City Theater's cast for Spring Awakening was comprised of Emerging Artists working within a professional theater. Most have a background or degree in theater, one or two have ventured to NYC for work, two members haven't graduated from college (one a Senior and one a Freshman at Nebraska Wesleyan University), and they receive payment for their service via profit sharing. For those who know me and my theater company, I am ALL about supporting Emerging Artists. However, when I asked Michael to categorize, he stated the group "leaned" towards amateur. Yet again, things in Nebraska differ from Delaware/Philadelphia/South Jersey. I was advised the cast rehearsed for five weeks and performed for three weeks. I don't know if rehearsals were held in person, online or hybrid or how many times they met each week before completing the twelve live streamed shows. The theater's website has a link to its COVID-19 Safety Plan, which layouts how rehearsals and performances were managed. By my reading of such Plan, I assume rehearsals were in-person/on-site, with production team members and cast members following strict protocols, including self-isolating during the rehearsal and performance period, and the requirement of continued testing.


While the run of this production has closed, a Director's Cut version will be on sale in early 2021. If local Delaware/Philadelphia/South Jersey theater audiences are interested to see how theaters not in our vicinity create theater magic, check out Capitol City Theater.

SPRING AWAKENING
Book & Lyrics by Steven Slater
Music by Duncan Sheik

Capitol City Theater
1742 North 48th Street
Lincoln, NE 68504
https://www.capitolcity.live


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