The musical “Spring Awakening” alternates between punk-rock anthems and folk-infused ballads in its rousing and provocative exploration of the sexual liberation of German teenagers.
An adaption of Frank Wederkind’s 19th century play, “Spring Awakening” marks Shakespeare on the Green’s first foray into musical theater. The production company has set the bar high for itself considering the notable material. Duncan Sheik’s ’92 music has a cult following among high school theater nerds, and the 2006 Broadway production received a Tony award for Best Musical.
Despite this daunting task, under the direction of Jenn Maley ’16 — following her memorable interpretation of Cabaret last fall — the production finds a solid creative foundation.
In the song “The Dark, I Know Well,” Maley stages the male cast as a physical barrier between a dueting Haley Schwartz ’17 and Emily Rudder ‘17 to evoke images of the male gaze and the subjugation of women. Though the stage directions and set design are not always effective — an off-putting green artificial turf covers the stage in an unsuccessful attempt to create a natural springtime environment — they consistently have a powerful effect.
The show opens with Amelia Scaramucci’s ’17 angelic version of “Mama Who Bore Me.” As she explains how children are conceived to her reserved and conservative mother, the musical immediately delves into its themes of sexual repression and individuals’ relationship to authority.
Hannah Margolin ’16 and Justin Harris ’15, who together portray all of the adult characters in the production, embody this authority. Their moments on stage are brief, but both actors are able to carefully differentiate between the play’s numerous characters.
Among the teenage ensemble, the romantic entanglement between two male characters — a collision of Brendan George’s ’18 smarmy swagger and the Bambi-esque Jonathan West ’16 — is comically entertaining.
The leads do well to depict heavy and deeply vulnerable moments on stage, which include instances of nudity and violence. Scaramucci lends a necessary childlike innocence of Wendla’s character. And while Conor Sweeney’s ’18 vocal performance falls flat in difficult falsetto moments, he is steady in his dramatic performance.
The production’s most memorable moments feature Frankie Troncoso ‘16 and Schwartz, whose duet “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” is gripping and heartbreaking. This is especially true of Troncoso. He is able to find emotional depth in the character of the academically-struggling Mortiz, his skittish gestures manifesting the anxieties of parental pressure.
The core of the show is not in these individual performances, but rather in the ensemble numbers. “Totally Fucked,” the stomping, jolting, thrashing call to anarchy in the second act, is about as much fun as you could have at a theater production. And the harmonic ballad “The Song of Purple Summer” that closes the show builds the production to an uplifting and stirring conclusion.
“Spring Awakening” will play this weekend at Churchill House’s Rites and Reason Theater. The Saturday evening show will be followed by a talk with Sheik.