SPRING AWAKENING Stunning and Provocative Now Through March 16
Marin Musical Theatre Company's stunning and provocative production of Spring Awakening is a no-holds-barred, deep dive into repression, control and the painful process of growing up. Based on the 1891 play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, the show is set in the authoritarian Germany of the late 19th century, but the percussive beat of modern alternative rock makes clear that everything old is new again.
As then, today's teens -- rushing headlong to the edge of the precipice between innocence and sexual awakening -- are often left to navigate the abyss on their own. And just like Spring Awakening's Wendla, Melchior and Moritz did, teens still face the pressures of societal norms that seek to regulate the purity of women's bodies and repress healthy, human sexuality, especially when it's gay. The genius of Steven Sater's book and lyrics and Duncan Sheik's music, is that they connect the shadow and shame of 19th century Germany to 21st century American's mores. It is, indeed, the bitch of living. Playing now through March 16 at the Novato Theater Company, Spring Awakening is a gripping, must-see musical that is masterful in its portrayal of adolescents coming of age.
Director Jenny Boynton had the daunting task of guiding the actors through the show's intense subject matter and she handled it beautifully. The cast's honest portrayal of characters simulating masturbation, baring their bodies in scenes depicting first-time sex and males passionately kissing each other can almost certainly be attributed to the trust that was built between the cast and director.
It doesn't hurt that the music is so damn good; poignant and soaring, then convulsive and rebellious. It won Sheik and Sater the Tony for Best Original Score (and seven more, including Best Musical). The opening number, "Mama Who Bore Me," sets the emotional tone and timbre of the show and is sung by Emily Dwyer as Wendla. Dwyer imbues Wendla with all the scared excitement and curiosity of a girl on the verge of adulthood. In the opening, her sister has just had her second baby and still, Wendla hasn't a clue about how it happened. She's desperate for information about how babies are made and begs her mother (Kristine Ann Lowry shines, playing all the Adult Women with flawless skill) for answers, but mom can't overcome her own reticence and fear in order to educate her daughter about sex.
Both will end up regretting this when Wendla's budding hormones find her in the embrace of Melchior, and she eventually ends up pregnant. Ryan Hook is superb as the smart but angry Melchior, a freethinker who has more modern views about sexuality than the rest of the boys in his class. This leads his anxiety-ridden friend Moritz (played with spot-on neurotic intensity by the talented Tyler Gable) to ask him for a crib sheet on sex, complete with illustrations, which Melchior readily supplies.
Choreography by Katie Wickes unleashes the inner turmoil of the characters, translating feelings into raw, demanding stomps and defiant fist-pounding rages that connect the audience to the torment and confusion raging inside the teen's bodies and minds. The fight choreography was less impressive, but the dancing throughout was brilliant.
Spring Awakening is a shock to the senses. The ragged voices of repressed youths have been shamed into compliance by a society seeking only to mold and control them. They cry out to the teachers, preachers and adults in their lives. They ache to be heard and seen, and finally to be honored and loved, but their needs are left unanswered.
During the final scene, the hopeful green of their spring awakening gives way to a more mature and bruised purple of summer as the entire company sings "The Song of Purple Summer." In an inspired ending not done on Broadway, Boynton and Wickes give us tableaus of what might have been. As the lament of 'Purple Summer" is being sung, Wendla's mother explains how babies are made. Moritz and Melchior's parents hug them instead of rebuking then and we see others connect as well, showing that indeed there is another way. It was unexpectedly heart-wrenching to get a glimpse of how things could have gone without the overlay of parental fear and societal control.
Marin Musical Theatre Company provided a sheet in the program entitled "You Are Not Alone." It was a list of community resources for suicide prevention, domestic violence assistance, abortion information and grief counseling. Together with the show, this list may save some lives. Theatre at its best gives us a window into reality and that can lead to change. It can resonate and truly make you feel like you're not alone, reaching an audience at a deeper level than mere instruction can ever aspire to. Go out and support this wonderful cast and the message that they share so honestly and artistically.
Now thru March 16
Book by Steven Sater based on the Play by Frank Wedekind
Music by Duncan Sheik
Lyrics by Steven Sater
Marin Musical Theatre Company