Alex Hamilton (center) with (clockwise) Zach Storey, Andrew Mertz, Jordan Lyons, & Bailey Storey in Spring Awakening. Photo courtesy Taylor Clemons.
Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Directed by Taylor Clemons
Music Direction by Doug Jones
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
What are expectations for a production for which the highest price ticket is under $10? When the show is Spring Awakening, maybe we still expect a great deal.
The winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the show is a rich mix of superb score, frank sexual themes, and dynamic staging. So can a student production pull it off and do justice to the material?
For the most part, the answer is yes. This production, directed by Taylor Clemons, is well cast and hews closely to the style and temperament of the original New York staging, so it proves undeniably satisfying. Often the singing is plaintive when it should be powerful, and the limitations of the sound system don’t do the audience any favors, but the tone and pitch of the singing and the characterizations are on target.
Based on the German play from 1891, Spring Awakening charts the natural adolescent development of a group of teenagers, but that sexual awakening is severely repressed by stringent social mores that see honest sensual expression as deviant. Melchior (Alex Hamilton) is a strong student, but his friend Moritz (Jake Rogers) struggles with school and his self-esteem. Melchior becomes infatuated with Wendla (Bridget Thesing), who, in the opening number, “Mama Who Bore Me”, sings of her frustration at the lack of insight into love and sex she gets from her mother. It is the central theme that adults either are stifling and repressive, or harsh and judgmental. Greg Collier and Jennifer Starr work through playing all of the adults in largely one-dimensional fashion, because that is what the script requires of them. But they each have at least one moment of compassion.
The boys express similar feelings in the boisterous “The Bitch of Living”, and act one is a parade of terrific numbers: the longing of “Touch Me”, the despair and rejection of “And Then There Were None”, and the powerful exploration of the emotional scars from child sexual abuse in “The Dark I Know Well”. The last number was especially impactful in an impassioned delivery from Emily Vergason and Katie Maurer.
“Left Behind”, in act two, was in many ways the emotional climax of the piece, a tender and sorrowful song of regret staged with simplicity. When you have a song like that, you don’t need to get fancy. When it comes time to cut loose, Natalie Mathis does wonders with the choreography, clever but never more challenging than the talented ensemble can handle.
The only real problem with the show is that the music lacks the proper degree of kick in the rock numbers. Music Director Doug Jones’ small orchestra is adept with the ballads, showing taste and subtlety in the playing and arrangements, but I longed for a harder feel in “I Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind”, and Mr. Rogers seemed ready to bring it. Even better in that moment was Ms. Maurer, who, for my money, did the best work of the night in her characterization of Ilse.
But the fact that there is even a band of this size to discuss for a student production produced outside of the University theatre department underscores that this is an above-average staging. For fans of Spring Awakening, this one will hit the spot, and for newcomers, be careful, you are likely to be converted.
March 24, 25, 27, 30, 31, and April 1 at 8pm
March 26 and April 2 at 3pm
Free for UofL Students
$3 for Outside Students
$7 for Adult Community Members
Tickets will be available at the door for every performance. Only cash will be accepted in person. Advance sales are available through:http://m.bpt.me/event/2902261
Studio Theatre Company.
University of Louisville Thrust Theatre
2314 S. Floyd Street
Louisville, KY 40208
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.