SPRING AWAKENING The Musical
08/07/2016 - 16/07/2016
The winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical – Spring Awakening found its inspiration in one of literature’s most controversial masterpieces (at the time banned in Germany).
Based on Frank Wedekind’s play of the same name, the rock musical daringly depicts the journey from adolescence to adulthood with a poignancy that is illuminating and unforgettable.
It’s 1891, and grown-ups hold all the cards. Headstrong Melchior and naive Wendla stumble into each other’s arms, passionate and curious, while anxious Moritz struggles to live up to the expectations of society.
With only each other for guidance, this group of young men and women travel the rocky path of adolescence, in a story that packs a powerful emotional punch.
R16 – Explicit content of a sexual nature, and coarse language. Persons younger may be accompanied by a parent/guardian.
The Meteor, Hamilton
Theatre , Musical ,
Heartfelt with punch and high production
Review by Ross MacLeod 14th Jul 2016
Black Box Creative has built up a reputation of the last few years of sharp, high energy productions from young casts and Spring Awakening is no exception. There are strong theatrical and musical performances from the leads, passionate work from the cast and solid unflinching direction in dealing with some of the heavier material.
Where there are weaknesses they stem largely from the source material which undercuts my personal enjoyment of the work as a whole but certainly not my appreciation of the cast and crew’s talent and effort.
The 2006 musical is based on the 1890 play by German playwright Frank Wedekind. It was shocking at the time with its exploration of teenage sexuality and repression and 125 years later many of the issues still hit home. When it is sticking to the plots of the core trio – stories of teenage pregnancy and suicide – it is engaging. But two brief scenes addressing child abuse and homosexuality feel like throwaways, tacked on without further exploration. While well performed and certainly containing topics worthy of discussion, they are entered as such adjuncts in the script that, through a contemporary lens, I cannot help but equate them to a high school Stage Challenge issues play that packs itself with teen trauma. With this filter some of the main scenes take on a tinge of melodrama, which is unfortunate as they certainly form a solid core of narrative.
Likewise the setting, 19th century German, throws up a curious quirk with all the cast speaking in strong Broadway American accents, highlighted further by the fact that the adult cast do not. Perhaps this is a conscious decision to address the generational gap or perhaps a practical attempt to standardise the accent within the performance. In either case, I never quite get used to the mix of accents.
Aside from these two points the only other weakness I note is the (sadly) increasingly common trait of chorus lyrics getting lost once the drums start picking up volume. There’s certainly in tune sound coming from the cast but the textual substance occasionally becomes blurred. Thankfully it holds in most of the solo numbers and in the softer choral numbers.
With elements of mostly personal nit-picking out of the way, I can move on to the strong performances delivered by the cast.
Henry Ashby as Melchior gives us a very clever but emotionally hormonal young man at odds with the world around him. A solid protagonist, he is not without flaws, and Ashby moves well between his compassion and arrogance.
Hannah Doherty is a case of precision casting as Wendla, fantastically expressive as she moves from wide eyed innocence to sensuality and fear. Wendla is a naive young woman destroyed by the very walls of ignorance and secrecy built to protect her and Doherty nails the role, giving her a charm and softness that makes her relatable.
As the nervous and tormented Moritz, Ben Maynard (in his premiere theatrical role) gives a powerful performance. Initially a little bit of a caricature, he embodies the naive awkwardness of adolescent male sexuality, horrified by his own grown desires without an outlet or understanding of them. With the added frustration of academic workload, parental expectation and meekness to authority, Maynard’s portrayal of a young man overwhelmed by his world and without guidance is quite likely the most relatable character in the play, at least to this contemporary male audience member.
All three of the leads are strong singers, with Doherty especially putting volume and soul in the lyrics.
Despite these strong performances, it could reasonably be stated the minor adult characters steal the show. Nick Clothier and Julia Watkins bring a wealth of experience to the stage and it shows in their unwavering focus among myriad characters. They make for stern, cold authority figures in one scene then hilariously and satirically comic ones in the next. As such they provide perfect foils for the youth cast to bounce off. Filtered through the lens of adolescence most adults are tyrants or clowns.
Especially touching is Clothier’s portrayal of a father pushing his son hard for fear of the shame of failure on the family name whose resolve crumbles to grief upon the death of his son. The silent moment is one of tragic regret and is, to me, one of the strongest single moments in the play.
The remainder of the chorus is strong throughout, with some excellent awkward comedy moments, strong voices and sharp, energetic choreography. They commit themselves to the material boldly, meaning that even in the scenes that feel a little incongruous, the performances hold up.
There isn’t a wealth of catchy tunes and lyrics but there’s a great full-on show-stopper near the start of act two, and some heartfelt solos and duets.
Production-wise, Spring Awakening gives as good a performance as I could ask for from a local group and even many professional ones. It has punch and production values that elevate it beyond what, for me, is a solid but not ear-worming musical score and a well-crafted but overwrought script.
The cast, crew and band of Black Box Creative can be proud of what they’ve crafted and I’d recommend that local musical lovers catch it before it closes on July 16th.
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