Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Theatre on the Bay Is a Masterpiece: Mesmerising, Menacing, and Moving

This LAMTA production has a limited run from 24 November to 3 December 2023.

By: Nov. 28, 2023
Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Theatre on the Bay Is a Masterpiece: Mesmerising, Menacing, and Moving

If you have read any of my LAMTA show reviews before, you’ll know that I’m an avid fangirl of their productions. And while I always rave because the raving is deserved, SPRING AWAKENING, as LAMTA’s first performance of a full-scale musical, is extra special and extra rave-worthy. As always, with LAMTA shows, the energy crackles – as soon as the opening scene begins, you can feel the sizzle of the production and it doesn’t die.

SPRING AWAKENING is an excellent choice of musical. While I know the music well, I have never got to see the show, so it was a treat to have a fresh musical on Capetonian shores. The musical, based on the play by Frank Wedekind, has its book and lyrics written by Steven Sater and its music composed by Duncan Sheik. It’s fitting that it be performed by LAMTA students past and present because the story is all about the potential and value of the youth. While today’s audiences won’t find the subject matter particularly shocking, having been desensitised by contemporary ‘shock factor’ standards, both the play (during its heyday in the 1890s) and the musical address taboo topics experienced by teenagers.

Indeed, this production is still deeply important and relevant. It attacks the adage that ‘children should be seen and not heard’, an attitude that is still more pervasive than it should be. How can we prevent and address abuse of and harm to the youth if we don’t communicate with them, if we don’t equip them with the knowledge, tools, and insight of what faces them in this complex world? SPRING AWAKENING poses such questions, and it does so through phenomenal singing, acting, and choreography.

Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Theatre on the Bay Is a Masterpiece: Mesmerising, Menacing, and Moving

Acclaimed Sylvaine Strike, who most recently directed THE PROMISE, artfully executes this poignant piece of theatre. Because, while SPRING AWAKENING is a rock musical full of heart and show-stopping numbers, it leaves the opulent spectacle of other musicals at the door – in the best way. The set is simple: mostly wooden slats, and the actors mime almost all the props.

I must give one example: when a whipping is delivered with a mimed cane, the audience audibly winced. That we are so invested in the unseen indicates the successful emotional grip that the actors have over us. As in THE PROMISE, the sound effects are made offstage, by other actors who are visible but who are not in the scenes. So, we hear the crumpling of the newspaper but we see no physical newspaper onstage. Still, we ‘see’ it. This is incredibly effective and ensures that our focus is on the actors, the story, the sense of foreboding. This show needs no gimmicks.

Sure, there are tons of laughs in the show, often from Natalie Robbie as ‘the adult women’ and from Francis Chouler as ‘the adult men’ (who are most fantastic, menacing and versatile). Behind the gags, however, gurgles a dark and disturbing underbelly. Be warned that some of the themes include teen suicide, teenage pregnancy, physical and sexual abuse of minors, and simply the navigation of burgeoning sexuality. This is not a musical that shies away from real and raw issues – and this is its strength.

This production of SPRING AWAKENING is flawless – perfectly executed, and as you watch, you can clearly see the magical collaboration between the many role players: Niall Griffin’s production design; Anna Olivier’s and Naoline Quinzin’s choreography; David Claasen’s sound design; Amy Campbell’s musical direction; Anton Luitingh’s assistant musical directing; Duane Alexander’s choreographic supervision; and, of course, Sylvaine Strike’s direction. LAMTA surpasses its own high standard to deliver a production that is not superb as a ‘student production’ but as a production in and of itself.

Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Theatre on the Bay Is a Masterpiece: Mesmerising, Menacing, and Moving

Each triple threat (for they are all triple threats) is at the top of their game – from main roles to ensemble members. Scarlett Pay as Wendla Bergman is brilliant. She gives a compelling performance, full of conviction with a voice that doesn’t quit. Likewise, Dylan Janse van Rensburg’s Melchior is everything he should be: cheeky, audacious, and wise beyond his years – he immediately wins the hearts of the audience. One of the standout performances for me was Johnathan Conrad as Moritz. He has something different and is a magnetic performer. His portrayal of the troubled teen blew me away.

The execution of this musical is mesmerising and despite the heavy subject matter (or maybe because of it), I was deeply moved. Everything about LAMTA’s SPRING AWAKENING is innovative and creative. It might very well awaken the musical lover in you.

SPRING AWAKENING runs from 24 November to 3 December 2023 at Theatre on the Bay. Tickets range from R250 to R350 and are available via Webtickets. Please note that SPRING AWAKENING contains mature themes, partial nudity, sexual situations, as well as explicit language. It carries an age restriction of 13.