Don't be put off by the Rated R warnings on "Spring Awakening," the show that won best musical among its eight Tony Awards when it premiered on Broadway in 2006. While you probably don't want to bring any young children, older teens and adults should be able to handle the strong language, frank sexual content, and difficult subject matter. But even if that's the sort of thing that normally makes you squirm in your seat (don't worry, the lights are low), a little momentary discomfiture shouldn't spoil what is a beautifully balanced story that manages to be sweet, funny, heart-wrenching, and surprisingly buoyant despite its darker moments.
All of those adjectives, plus the chair-squirming, are the very things that make our teenage years so striking. Those years tend to burn in our memories because it's precisely then that we first encounter the raw, wild feelings and impulses that seem likely to either free us or break us on the road to adulthood. That is the core of Spring Awakening, based on the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, which was banned for many years because of its controversial content. Set in an era when the stifling repression of Victorian attitudes was being challenged by new ideas about sexuality, religion, and class, the show's contemporary rock score by Duncan Sheik expresses that spirit of rebellion and surges with a punk bravado in lyrics by Steven Sater.
Artistic Director John Leffert trusts his performers to shoulder the story's unflinching honesty. A fine ensemble cast of young actors portray the heady rush of lust, confusion, and wonder that gives the show its life. Austin Lauer and Lauren McCombs turn in affecting performances as the young lovers, Wendla and Melchior. Other stand-outs are Kyle Braun as Melchior's awkward, messed-up friend Moritz and Jordan Price as the more aggressively assured Hanschen. All the adult roles (parents, teachers, doctors) are ably played by two actors, Julie McGuffey and Michael Drury. The entire cast was very strong, shining when they got their individual moments in the spotlight.
Kyle Braun as Moritz
The set is spare with a central platform on the stage, lined on either side by two rows of chairs that offer some intimate seating to a few audience members, interspersed with some of the ensemble singers. At the back of the stage is the small orchestra, conducted by Music Director Angie Hopperton. They make the most out of five members, playing guitar, drums, piano, viola, and bass. Solos are sung as interior monologues, but there are also several ensemble pieces like the spirited rant, "The Bitch of Living." My favorite song was the lovely "The Word of Your Body," and its chorus of "O, I'm gonna be wounded /O, I'm gonna be your wound," reprised several times in the show. No promise could be truer in the years of teen love. Enhancing the music is the simple and lean choreography by Zachary Boone. The actors' arms and hands flow over their heads and bodies emphasizing the struggle of living in a world with firm rules about what may be spoken, seen, or touched. This repression results in bursts of hyper-physicality when the songs break into punk rock anthems of rebellion.
Overall, this opening night production was very polished. Well-rehearsed from blocking to quick set changes, there were also no glitches with the light and sound -- in short, nothing to distract the audience from the acting and music itself. CenterStage's "Spring Awakening" at the Jewish Community Center runs through August 17. Visit the website for details on tickets and the rest of the 2014-2015 season.
Austin Lauer as Melchior and Laura McCombs as Wendla
Photos courtesy of CenterStage