Theater Review: “Spring Awakening”
“Spring Awakening.” Photo Credit: Virginia Repertory Theatre.
Notwithstanding a traditional review, I feel I can say with confidence that Virginia Repertory Theatre’s “Spring Awakening” is a production you can catch me at again before it ends July 22.
A rock musical, based on the play by Frank Wedekind, about the sexual angst, academic nonconformity, and social recalcitrance of German youth, Chase Kniffen’s direction revs the production’s engine of incest, homosexuality, partial nudity, and pre-marital sex into full gear.
Set in Germany in the 1890s the rock musical follows provocative stories from an iconoclastic cast of teenagers: Wendla begins the production questioning where babies come from and her love interest Melchoir challenges the stodgy academic establishment of secondary education; Moritz wants to learn more about sexual education, and his love interest Ilse walks the streets.
Ali Thibodeau infuses Wendla with a sympathetic innocence, while Oliver Houser inhabits Melchoir with the right amount of teenage jadedness. Yet, the production blossoms through the standout performances of Christie Jackson as Ilse in “The Dark I know Well” and John Mincks as Moritz in “Don’t Do Sadness.” And rounding out the cast are the talented actors Susan Sanford and Daniel Moore playing all the adult roles, including parents and schoolteachers.
And special attention should be paid to Daniel Cimo, who seems as if he were born to play Hanschen, and he cashes in his scene seducing Ernst, played by an unassuming Owen Wingo. Additional attention should be paid to the outrageously good singers Josh Marin as Georg and Richard Chan as Otto.
The music by Duncan Sheik is unsychopated, brash rock melodies juxtaposed against a melancholic book and introspective lyrics by Steven Sater. The music and lyrics illuminate the best when the ensemble comes together such as in the “The Guilty Ones” and “Totally Fucked.”
Music direction by Sandy Dacus has the teenagers belting with fiery emotion, and the set by Brian C. Barker is trapezoidal and cavernous with an elongated back wall that projects the teenagers in modern dress as if they were in a music video during ensemble pieces, as well as informs the audience of when the actors are inside or outside with visuals like trees and doors.
Lighting design by Lynne M. Hartman is wonderfully psychodynamic, and costume designer Sara Grady dresses the cast in provincial late 19th century wear (some have shoe laces and belts that nod to the 21st century), but the four ensemble members (Kyle Cornell, D.J. Cummings, Lucy Dacus, and Allison Gilman) who sit on the sides of the stage in wooden chairs are wearing neon-colored, modern attire that looks as if it came from American Apparel.
But despite all the wild success of the production at times the action could flag, particularly in Act I during Melchoir’s “All That’s Known” and Wendla’s “The Word of Your Body,” but Act II reverberates deep down into the soul with emotions and most of the kinks should work themselves out as the production matures throughout the run.
Unquestionably, however, kudos to Virginia Repertory for producing a production rife with teenage issues – almost anyone can relate to the curious but apocalyptic sensibility of the teenage years – and for taking a calculated risk in producing this audacious and compelling production.
“Spring Awakening” runs through July 22 at the Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://va-rep.org/
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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