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Spring Awakening

Out North Presents:

Spring Awakening


Runs through August 5

 

By Toni Massari McPherson

Out North Contemporary Art House has tackled a challenging musical for its summer production. “Spring Awakening” garnered eight Tony Awards in 2007, including Best Musical.  The play, dating from the Victorian Age, explores ancient themes of pubescent innocence and angst.  Teen suicide, sex education, physical and sexual abuse, death by abortion, erotic fantasies, date rape, wet dreams, homosexuality – difficult subjects in the late 1800s, the 1900s and even  today, in the 21-century.

Eleven of the 13 characters in the play are teens from the 19th century, seven guys and six girls, most of whom are confused by the changes to their bodies and the way they are thinking about the opposite sex. The director, Caleb Bourgeois, manages to get fairly even performances from all his cast members, even the most inexperienced.

The male lead, Melchior (Coleman Alguire) has researched sexual biology in books, and writes an essay, complete with illustrations, to help his friend Moritz (Joey Chu) understand that he is not going crazy; he’s just horny. When the female lead, Wendla (Ashley Glore) asks her mother where babies come from, she gets a less than satisfactory reply about them being a product of a “husband’s love.”

Tall and lean with leading man good looks, Alguire commands attention while on stage, though his inexperience as an actor is occasionally apparent. Glore, with wide doe eyes, is perfectly cast as the innocent and bewildered Wendla who floats through life expecting the best from everyone and blaming herself for the shortcomings of others. Her sweet voice captures Wendla’s songs well.

Chu was outstanding in both his solos and his portrayal of the teen awash in confusion and discrimination. One of my favorite voices belonged to Lala Araki playing Martha who is being abused both physically and sexually by her father. Her song, “The Dark I Know Well” is heartbreaking.

In an interesting device, Nico Bringold played all the adult males and Amanda Winkelman played all the female adults. They do an excellent job differentiating among the characters and bringing just the right elements to each. Winkelman’s shift between the snobbish schoolmarm and the piano teacher as sexual fantasy for adolescent Georg (A.R. Lounsbury) is particularly interesting to watch. Lounsbury has a big personality and makes the most of his opportunities to play to the crowd.

Other than the promiscuous Llse (Megan Ann Perkins), who was kicked out of her house by her parents, the other girls – Christina Howell and Karina Becker – are written more as a part of the chorus than as fully rounded individuals. The guys get one of the most fun scenes to watch, in which they dance over and around the chairs in their classroom. Later, Hanschen (Vincente Capala), with an unmistakable come-hither attitude, starts a flirtation with Ernst (Mark Bautista) that ends with a passionate on-stage kiss. Jared Long rounds out the gang of guys with a solid performance as Otto.

Though the black clothing of the five-piece band camouflages them against the dark curtains surrounding the stage, it does nothing to diminish their importance in this production. There were a few sound problems in the show I saw: a loud humming at times and several occasions when the singers were inaudible over the sound of the music. The set is minimalistic with the majority of the action occurring on a 10×12-foot raised floor close to the front of the stage area. Props and furniture are hauled in at the beginning of a scene and out at the end.

The songs in this musical are a modern addition to the script, and, unfortunately, it was the songs, at least the words, that left me very disappointed. To my mind, many of them failed to advance the story or add dimension to the teenage characters.  Before some of the solos, the actors are saying their lines while frantically looking for the nearest microphone. Then they jump up and sing their ballads, modern-day rock star style. A device to demonstrate the timelessness of the themes, I suppose. But the abrupt time jumps did not provide coalescence, so much as jolt watchers out of the story and challenge the actors to shift in and out of character in an instant.

“Spring Awakening” ends on a false note. The teens have been going through a really awful time. All have all been betrayed by the rigid, dogmatic adults. Two of their friends are dead – one by his own hand and the other because of a botched abortion – and another was sent to reformatory school in disgrace. But instead of being angry, upset, afraid or sad, the teenagers close the play with “The Song of Purple Summer.” This is a song for fatalistic old men and women, not for young people just coming into their own. My inner teenager raises her fist in protest.

 

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