BWW Review: Effortful SPRING AWAKENING at 12th Ave Arts Suffers From Technical Difficulties

BWW Review: Effortful SPRING AWAKENING at 12th Ave Arts Suffers From Technical Difficulties
Cast of "Spring Awakening"
Photo Credit: Connor McIlquham

"Spring Awakening" is a tough musical to take on: all of the performers need to be exceptional singers and dancers, while also finding that sweet spot of giving their character emotional honesty in its darkly funny narrative. On top of it all, most of the actors have to be (or at least pass as) middle schoolers. Any misssteps-especially when adapted for a small stage-are painfully apparent, even when the production has a lot to offer. Basement Theatrics' sophomore production of "Spring Awakening" suffers from these very misfortunes, and despite the show having a number of impressive vocal performances and cool, abstract choreographic choices, the technical and pacing issues made the show feel a hair out of its league.

"Spring Awakening" focuses on the budding sexual awakening of teenagers in 19th-century Germany. This rock musical is based on the 1891 play by the same name by Frank Wedekind, so controversial at the time that it was 15 years before the play was produced. In a small, provincial town where girls don't know where babies come from and boys fear damnation for their urges, the show tackles potential insidious consequences of refusing to teach teens about sex.

In a closed-mouthed, conservative society, musical numbers such as "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally F*cked" are very funny and unexpected. The cast was giving lots of energy during those moments in a way that really drove home all of the sexual and societal repression. You could feel how much the actors where putting into their performances during the musical numbers.

And they had to. One major problem: the orchestra's volume drowned out the vocal performances. The vast majority of the action happens during musical numbers, so a good chunk of the plot was completely lost. It's a shame, because you can tell that the performers have great singing voices, you just have no idea what they're singing about.

Another issue I had was how the adult characters--all played by the same two actors--were differentiated. Ellen Dessler and Marcus Wolland do their best, but ultimately their characters' costumes and attitudes were too similar to be played by one person. Take, for example, Dessler's characters: she plays a stern piano teacher, a stern mother, and a very stern schoolteacher who all wear the same frock plus or minus some accessories. Both Dessler and Wolland's characters constantly go in and out of scenes, and on top of each character having the same severe, difficult to pronounce German name, the various adult characters where almost impossible to follow or tell apart. By using accessories to differentiate between the adult characters, when the schoolboys suddenly don messenger boy caps out of nowhere, they give off the impression that they're different characters (which I don't think they were, but I'm not sure).

That said, there were some really great things in this show. For example, the choreography by Elizabeth Posluns gave the musical numbers an extra boost, helping to tell the story and set the tone. The dance numbers contained a decent variety of styles, including some really fun, abstract movements and playful prop use. Director Moshe Henderson utilized the levels within the space very effectively to demonstrate power dynamics, and I loved the bold lighting choices. It felt like Henderson actively incorporated as many storytelling elements as possible in this show, which was helpful, given the audio problems.

Michael Krenning's performance as Melchior was wonderful, combining both the care-free intellect with a disregard to authority only a teen can get away with. Plus he brought the house down with his rendition of "Totally F*cked." Tyler Rogers' manipulative Hanschen had just the right amount of smugness to make him feel alluring but not off-putting. Even in joyful moments, Alisa Muench brought an underlying sadness to Martha that felt very true to her character. Marshall Link's Moritz had a very believable character development as his sexual confusion transforms from comical to serious. Link felt very vulnerable to his surroundings, which made the intense pressures from his parents and peers that much more suffocating.

This is one of those examples of a production that does not struggle from lack of trying. This was an impressively emotionally invested piece of work. The choreography, the lighting, and the singing was on point. However, due to the orchestral and pacing issues, I give Basement Theatrics' "Spring Awakening" a not-quite-there 3.5/5 stars. With a different venue and some technical tweaking, the young talent in this show could really shine.

"Spring Awakening" performs at 12th Avenue Arts through July 31, 2016. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.basementtheatrics.org.

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From This Author Amelia Reynolds

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