The Tony Award-winning “Spring Awakening” (The Musical), with book and lyrics by Steven Sater, and music by Duncan Sheik, based on the play by Frank Wedekind, and directed by Darnell Patrick Morris, was performed by Ovations Theatre at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville, December 6-8, 2019.
It is based on an 1891 German play by the same name by Wedekind. The musical is in the style Bertolt Brecht and is a very dark and somber look at youth as they leave childhood into adulthood. It frankly deals with topics like homosexuality, rape, masturbation, sadomasochism, pedophilia, incest, suicide, and abortion. These topics are still controversial but at the turn of the last century, they were revolutionary. The play was often censored and even banned when it opened in New York and London.
The plot remains fairly intact from the Wedekind’s drama. There have been some small changes. Whether or not there is a rape is left to the creative decision of the director. In this case, the sex was portrayed as consensual. Otherwise, it is a tale of young teens growing up in 19th Century Germany. Wendla (Mia Ehrlich) is beginning to question her sexuality, but her mother (Jordan Kelberg) will not even tell her where babies come from. She feels the stirring of her blossoming womanhood but is not sure what it is or how to deal with it. Moritz (Ian Coursey) is also dealing with these issues. He, like most of the boys his age, feels the physical urges of adulthood. Melchior (Angelo Harrington II) is a brilliant student who is wise about sex and willing to share his knowledge with his friend, Mortiz. He is also the heartthrob of his village. Wendla is one of the girls attracted to him. Her naiveté and the cruelness and stupidity of the adults take all the children on a sad path as they lose their innocence.
This performance of ‘Spring Awakening’ was the perfect instrument for Ovations Theatre’s young talent. It was a thoughtful and well-staged production.
Ehrlich captured all the charm, sweetness and beauty of Wendla most evident in the opening number, “Mama Who Bore Me” which implores her mother, Frau Bergman to tell her the facts of life.
Harrington portrayed the cocky Melchoir and led the vibrant cast in “Totally F***ed,” one of the best numbers in the second act.
One of the most moving performances was given by Coursey as the pitiful Moritz. Moritz is not the smartest student and is pressured not only by his teachers but his parents to excel. He is also dealing with his own puberty, and like Wendla, is confused about is own awakenings. His lamentations in “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” sung to Ilse (Lily McKinnon) were heartfelt and rang a chord to anyone who has gone through puberty or been less than successful in academics.
McKinnon was a standout is Ilse, the village girl forced to leave her home to live with Bohemians. Sitare Sadeghi as Martha, the schoolgirl who is sexually and physically abused by her father, handled this most difficult role most effectively. The two girls sang a touching duet, “The Dark I Know Well” which explained their characters’ unbearable sadness.
The rest of the cast were all very talented young performers and included Raina Weinberg as Thea, Eva Salins as Anna, Kendyl Morrison as Melitta, Austin Rose as Hanchen, David Klos as Ernst, Jayden Armour as Georg, Paul Ruff as Otto, Aja Cooke as Frau Gabor, Kelberg as Frau Bergman, Brendan Hylton as Herr Sonnenstich/Herr Knochenbruch, Cole Chalfant as Herr Stiefel/Father Kaulbach, Blakely Masse as Fraulein Knuppeldick, Anna Heron as Fraulein Grossebustenhalter, Miles Carr as Herr Rilow/Herr Neumann, Eliana Posin as Frau Bessel/Frau Schmidt and Shayna Kolter as Doctor Von Brausepulver.
The Core Dancers included Grace Corbett, Thalia Eyles, Madelyn Fox, Kassidy Kepner, Emily Thompson, Mikayla Reich and Tori Shemer.
However, it should be noted that there were actually three sets of lead actors who did only two out of the six performances and two sets of several of the supporting casts who each performed half of the shows. If you are interested in discovering more about the other casts go to this website.
Morris’ direction and Morgan Christina Thomas’ choreography showcased the extremely talented teens on stage. The dancing and singing were perfectly synchronized. Most amazing was that they had to do this with really four separate casts.
The Musical Direction by Valerie A. Higgs who also conducted the live orchestra was extraordinary. The actors were all audible, and the orchestra never dominated the singers.
James Raymond set was professional quality. He created an old Lutheran church complete with alter and stained glass. When the action moved to the woods, he “flew” leaves and branches from the rafters and then a barn frame for the scene in the stable. Later he created a cemetery with an “iron” fence and a huge religious statue. His attention to detail made this set so distinctive.
The same should be said for the costumes designed by Morris. They were in period and also added to the characters who wore them, for example, having Wendla dressed in white.
The lighting by Steven Barker helped create the dreariness of this 19th Century German village. My only complaint was the front of the stage was not fully lit, and occasionally the faces of the performers on the apron were obscured.
The sound designed by Isaac Craig worked perfectly, and the young voices were easy to hear, blending well with each other and the orchestra.
Sadly, the group only performed for four shows ending December 8, 2019. Therefore, you may have missed your chance to see “Spring Awakening” by Ovations Theatre. However, there are shows planned for both the Senior and Junior Companies of this organization all year. To find out more about future shows go to their website.
Ovations Theatre states as their Mission: “Ovations Theatre offers inspiring and thought-provoking educational and performance opportunities for young musical theatre artists. Our learning environment supports creativity and open-mindedness, dedication and focus, individual expression and ensemble teamwork. Along with singing, dancing, and acting, our young people build confidence, problem-solving skills and strong friendships. They gain the fundamentals they need to blossom on-stage and off as they work together to create memorable—and magical—experiences for themselves and their audiences.
This performance of “Spring Awakening” was the perfect instrument for Ovations Theatre’s young talent. It was a thoughtful and well-staged production.
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes with an Intermission.
Note: “Spring Awakening” is for mature audiences.
Note: Susan Brall has a theatrical connection with a member of the crew. This did not affect her review.