In its first locally-produced version, Spring Awakening has generated a lot of buzz, and was sold out on Saturday night. I walked into the theater hoping to love the show and walked out merely okay with it.
Spring Awakening is a challenging musical, one that forces actors to explore levels of teenage frustration, longing, sexuality, and self-discovery of self while also dealing with society's repression of such subjects. At inconsistent times, the actors in the Kids Acting Against Cancer-presented work hit the needed levels. When they hit the needed pitch of feeling, one could feel and understand what the actors were conveying, and the show was marvelous. When they didn't, it left the audience wanting more - more emotion, more movement, more something.
Without question the best actor of the night was Charlie Meredith. Meredith is Moritz, who tries to learn about sex via notes his friend Melchior (Remy Sisk) gives him. Meredith's expressive acting and likable natural personality helped navigate the audience through his character's wide-ranging emotions to both dramatic and comedic effect.
For the rest of the actors, when it came down to the more disturbing scenes, these were handled with grace and professionalism. Scenes like Melchior hitting Wendla (McKenna Poe) with a rod per Wendla's request were handled without smirks or giggles, with a this-is-how-it-is approach that worked for this scene and others.
Then, there's the song Totally F***ed. The high-energy, anti-authority song gave everyone on stage a chance to rock out and just have fun. The energy the ensemble displayed translated to the audience, which began smiling, tapping their feet, or bopping their heads. Unfortunately, outside of Totally F***ed, songs were generally hit-and-miss for the night. It was hard to tell what was the bigger problem; the too-loud pre-recorded music (particularly on Mama Who Bore Me), or the not-loud-enough ensemble (especially during The Guilty Ones).
Many members of the ensemble used hand-held mics at some point during the show, but not only were they a distraction (save for Totally F***ed), but also elevated another problem, keeping a pitch. While the ensemble performances were mostly on key, solo singers, like Moritz in Those You've Known, had trouble finding the correct notes.
Then, there were moments that should have been deeper. For example, when Martha (Abby Helm) talks about her father beating her, it sounded like she was just reciting the lines. There wasn't much emotion. To Helm's credit, though, she did make up for it with a serious, effective performance of The Dark I Know Well.
Thankfully, most of those problems were forgotten not long into act two. Along with the aforementioned Totally F***ed, emotions were high and well performed in others moments, particularly from Poe during her performance of Whispering.
Even with a strong act two and strong performances sprinkled throughout act one, there was so much more one could have gained from Spring Awakening. Whatever the results, KAAC should at least be commended for attempting a challenging piece and providing audiences with a story that absolutely needs to be told.
Spring Awakening continues its run at Kentucky Center for the Arts until Jan. 26. Kids Acting Against Cancer will donate all proceeds to benefit the oncology ward at Kosair Children's Hospital, which is dedicated to fighting pediatric cancer.
image courtesy of Kids Acting Against Cancer