Spring Awakening Stirs

Stop reading this review. Go to the Walton Arts Center website and get your ticket for tonight’s (11/12/10) show. This might very well be the best musical this community has seen.

Spring Awakening deserved every bit of the standing ovation it received its opening night. It’s a good show and a great cast. If I had a teenager, I would take them to see this show. Well, maybe I wouldn’t actually sit with them in the audience, with the show’s more-than-frank content on sexuality and its general us versus them attitude toward authority figures. But, I would want them to see it. Hell, I would even sing along with them in the car afterwards.

A riveting show about the duress of growing up, told through the eyes of a group of high school-aged kids in 19th century Germany, Spring Awakening pulls out the stops. The rock and roll fervor of the show, rather than contrived, is felt. Deeply so. Its edginess, approaching sexuality with candor instead of euphemism, feels necessary rather than gimmicky. After all, that’s sort of the point.

I doubt even hardcore fans of the musical would be disappointed by the touring cast.
Christopher Wood, who plays Melchior, is smoldering in all the right ways and Elizabeth Judd, who opens the show as Wendla, is well-cast in the roll of the ingénue who tries to ask her mother where babies come from in the first scene. Moritz, played by Coby Getzug, covers punk angst with pizaz. Even the “adult” rolls, played magnificently by Sarah Kleeman and Mark Poppleton, fully populated their repressed world with every shade of censorship and ignorance, making for brilliant if not familiar foils to the teenagers’ desire. To tell you the truth, there wasn’t a cast member that I wasn’t impressed by.

The music rocks, for sure. The set is stunning, a grand and towering space that is used to surprising effect throughout the performance. The musicians playing downstage the entire time match the actors note for note and add to the exposed nature of the musical. The entire play was sort of minted with that meta-quality stamp, with actors walking across stage to hand someone a mic, choral ensemble members dressed in contemporary clothes jumping out of the wings to sing. And it works.

My only gripe is really one of personal preference. Part of the staging of the show, in light of its theatricality laid bare tactic, is that some audience members are sat in risers winging either side of the set, enabling the school kids to melt into a crowd or burst out of one into song at any given moment of the play. However, for the most part I was distracted by the staging, taking in the audience as much as the actors when attention was called to the left or right of the stage. Still, I imagine that those who got to see it from that perspective had a real treat. Such a polished show would have been powerful to see up close.

Even if you are not a Duncan Sheik fan (he wrote all of the music for the show, which is based off German playwright Frank Wedekind’s first major play of the same name), you will probably love this. The music is just good and I like to think we can still agree on generalities like that.

Spring Awakening made me wish that I could be a teenager again, for all of its pitfalls and drama, the magic of the unknown, those first discoveries, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime gift. Theatre, ideally, does just that: stirs in us that memory of what is most true, that life is best when it is not denied.

The show contains strong adult content, language and situations. Parental guidance is strongly suggested. The last performance is Friday, November 12th starting at 8pm. Tickets range from $39 to $49. More information can be had by calling (479) 443-5600 or at waltonartscenter.org.