BWW Review: SPRING AWAKENING Brings Exquisite Tension to the Warehouse Theatre
Imagine two teenagers, overwhelmed and overcome by a desire they know is forbidden but that they don't yet understand. Imagine the power that makes them want to simply hold hands, that pulls their hands together almost unbidden. Then imagine the electric pulse of shame and uncertainty that keeps their hands from actually touching, that keeps them forever an inch apart.
With music by 90's pop star Duncan Sheik ("Barely Breathing") and book & lyrics by Steven Sater, Spring Awakening uses as its source material a controversial 1891 play by Frank Wedekind. The text explores and criticizes the repressive German culture of the time, in which adults kept young people completely ignorant of the realities of sex and desire, while also abusing their power and even their expectations, sometimes leading to gut-wrenchingly tragic results.
The musical keeps the basic setting and characters of the original play while using the trappings of rock music to outwardly express the teenagers' inner turmoil. Director Jenna Tamisiea assembled a fearless, energetic cast that beautifully manifest their characters' buried tensions.
Arik Vega plays Melchior, the charismatic free thinker who is determined to discover the truths he's sure that adults are hiding from him. In fact, he's done enough research already that "it made an atheist" out of him. He's also decided that "shame is nothing but a product of education" rather than some sort of innate element of human nature.
When he meets up with a childhood playmate, Wendla (Laura Plyler), he puts his research to the test even as he fights against the conditioning of his parents and repressive society.
Vega and Plyler are both terrific, with strong voices and dynamic presences. Also impressive is Benjamin Davis who brings a kind of twisted, angular fierceness to the show's most tortured and troubled character, Moritz. Eliana Marianes brings an attractive earthiness to the troubled Ilse, and her dark duet with Cat Richmond is impressive in its examination of hidden pain. Two more standouts were Drew Whitley and Keven Ray Jones whose duet scene and song, "The Word of Your Body," managed to be both tender and hilarious.
If tension is the core feeling behind the production, it extends to more than just the sexual tension felt by the teenage characters. The show also explores the tensions between the teens and their parents/teachers/priests, as well as the adults' tensions with each other. Kerrie Seymour and Matt Reece each perform multiple roles as The Many adults circling these kids' lives. Seymour and Reece are seasoned professionals who bring variety and texture to the looming, oppressive, and sometimes abusive adults.
Tension, too, exists in such places as Ida Bostian's costumes - which alternate between drab reality and colorful inner life - and Will Lowry's gorgeous set. With drops offs and steep angles (and KEVIN FRAZIER's imaginative light design) the set adds its own sense of drama while also enhancing the play. The seven piece live band provides well-balanced accompaniment from a niche within the stage itself.
Director/Choreographer Tamisiea deserves kudos for this cohesively designed and powerfully executed show. It's a rock musical that raises questions while delivering shocks, tears, and laughter. It's a dynamite night at the theatre and one that shouldn't be missed.
Spring Awakening runs through June 10 at The Warehouse Theatre in Greenville, SC's historic West End. For tickets and showtimes call 864-235-6948 or visit warehousetheatre.com. Contains adult themes and language which may be uncomfortable for you if you bring your teenager.