BWW Preview: SPRING AWAKENING Showcases Spectacular Cast, Dark Themes
Tony Gilkinson is tap-dancing across the stage, between checking microphones and lighting issues, as Jay Morgan sings out in German and Kristy Noel Carlson wheels her way across the stage's lip. There's some sort of family-dinner feel, vaguely reminiscent of Thanksgiving Dinners before turkey hits the table and conflict starts, the air of magical possibility when amidst a family with many stories, many memories, and an exciting night ahead of them. It's tech week for Spring Awakening, where the cast and crew sees who endures the stress leading up to opening night, and it's safe to say that the cast is tight as their performances, something audiences of the Tampa theatre scene won't be able to forget.
We recently posted an interview with director Anthony Gilkinson, discussing some of his hopes and goals with this production of Duncan Sheik's 2006 smash. The cast is now in costume, struck against the cold, minimalistic backdrop of Gilkinson's set, with lighting raining down upon them and the rock-bash orchestra playing. While Spring Awakening is always a chaotic smash of a concert, Gilkinson and crew seem to subvert the norm in creating a fluidity to their show.
For those unaware, Spring Awakening is a dark, dreary show following the lives of teenagers in 1893 Germany. Through a series of horrid parenting, mothers and fathers who will tell their children nothing, the teenagers find themselves facing down the reality of sexual fantasies, masturbation, sexuality, and more. A true menagerie of the dark corners of the teenage mind, Spring Awakening is not intended for those under thirteen, with the topic matter gritting against the comfort zone of even the toughest adults.
Returning to mad Theatre and Gilkinson's direction is Nicolas Burgos in the lead role of Melchior Gabor, whose naiveté brings new dimensions to the century-old character. His dreamy looks and drifting mind are a pull to this rendition, something that gives new insights into the mind of the Atheistic rebel who causes the events of the entire show.
A true staple of Gilkinson's production is Mallory Quinn, a soaring belt with emotional depth to cement the show in the hearts and minds of anybody in the audience. Quinn has some of the darker twists and turns to deal with, something that evolves in her emotional state and performance throughout the night. Her voice moves with her, and each number gives us a darker and more fragile Wendla Bergmann. The true shining star of a production doesn't get the spotlight, but creates her own little world that leaves a craving for more, and a satisfaction that her story was told perfectly.
Those around them are equal in talent, especially Ricky Marenda as Moritz Stiefel. In this tormented mind we find a passion to the show, an unknown path that we're left fearing for. Marenda has never been in a musical prior to this engagement, but his presence demands more, and his character is truly grand.
The voices, honed in by musical director Peter Belk, are a delightful mix coming together. Chelsea Hooker's Martha has a sultry misery in The Dark I Know Well, turning into one of the show's strongest ballads. Another stand-out is Connor Hodge, a high tenor Ernst that blends superbly into the group numbers.
Beyond the stage, the cast comes together in new ways. Between scenes and numbers, they told their stories. In shocking ways, this extremely dark show is personal and challenging to the performers in ways unthinkable.
Drew Eberhard, playing Georg, has friends he recently lost in the Pulse shooting, and he has horrific experiences with suicide. Jessica Moraton thinks about her son during a funeral sequence. There is a vulnerability in this cast, an energy of risk that many casts never get to.
The lighting design by Anthony Vito is exquisite, layering in specials that increase the natural feel of the seasonal show. Colors blend well, exploding in the most dramatic points, but warming the show appropriately the remainder of the time.
As Vito dazzles the eyes, Belk fills the sound with a wonderful six person orchestra, perfectly balancing musical theatre with the hard rock he learned in RENT and Next to Normal. Having worked extensively with Gilkinson (as has Vito), the partnership has continued to grow and keep Spring Awakening in the grips of a strong creative team.
While sound was still being patched, holds needed calling to fix lighting transitions, it's evident that the pieces of Spring Awakening have fallen into their spots. A splendid cast is the glue tying up the ribbon on Gilkinson's vulnerable Spring Awakening, with stand-outs Tampa would do right to see thrice over.