MIDVALE CITY — Midvale Main Street Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening is a breath of fresh air when compared to the often overdone happy-go-lucky kind of musicals we seem to be inundated with here in Utah. While Spring Awakening is a show that may seem at odds with the fairly conservative Utah theatre patronage, the show’s messages are relevant to Utah culture.
With book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, Spring Awakening won eight Tony awards in 2006, including the award for Best Musical. Set in Germany in the late 1800s, the show tells the story of young teenagers as they explore and learn about sexuality, despite the intense efforts of their parents to repress their questions and concerns. The show, based on the controversial German play with the same name by Frank Wedekind, was banned in Germany for quite some time because of its uncensored portrayal of suicide, masturbation, homosexuality, and child abuse.
Director Cassidy Ross, music director Jason Campbell, and choreographer Aaron Ford deserve high praise for their production. The acting, singing, and dancing were all strong and seamlessly blended together.
Each song in Spring Awakening delves into the the lives of the young teenagers as they face pain, fear, and ignorance in dealing with their struggles of sex, abuse, pregnancy, and teen angst. In each of the musical numbers, the intense and strong vocals were near flawless. The cast’s harmony was well balanced, and seemed almost effortless. This was apparent in the numbers “Mama Who Bore Me (Reprise)”, “I Believe”, and “The Word of Your Body (Reprise 2)” in which the backup vocals were strong and supported the lead solos, yet weren’t overbearing and therefore didn’t detract from the solos. The vocal range of the actors was well utilized as was evident with Leo Cody Jensen as Melchior Gabor. The silky transition from his chest voice to his falsetto was clear and resounding, with never a crack or break evident. While I appreciated the vocal risks Thomas Kulkus (who played Georg Zirschnitz) took, too often he seemed to be strained a bit in the upper register of his voice and his vocal entrances seemed to be late. However Erica Renee Smith (who played Wendla Bergmann) brought the youthfulness and strength to her character. This was evident in the song “Mamma Who Bore Me” in which she sings about how her mother has not taught her what she needs to know as a young woman. Her smooth voice and innocent facial expressions help convey the message of the song quite well. Vocal powerhouse Carolyn Crow (who played Martha Bessell) knocked it out of the park with her raw and emotion filled performance of “The Dark I Know Well” in which she tells of how her father regularly abuses and rapes her. Her clear delivery was evident as each note seemed to build onto the last, allowing the audience to feel her pain and the depravation her father made her feel.
Another area where Midvale Main Street’s production of Spring Awakening excelled was the tight and precise choreography. Although solid throughout the whole show, it was particularly evident in the piece “The Bitch of Living.” The firm knee kicks and sharp hand gestures were in near perfect unison as all the actors seemed to be fully committed to the choreography, something I thoroughly enjoyed about this show.
Director Ross deserves credit for enabling the actors to show the distinction between the ignorant teens and their harsh and controlling parents, whose unyielding control is ultimately damaging to their children. This was shown in the touching and raw scene between Wendla and her mother, in which Wendla’s mother finds out that Wendla is not really anemic—she is pregnant. The switch of emotion I saw on Kelsey Lyn Hoskins’ face (who played Wendla’s mother, along with other roles) when she realized her daughter was pregnant seemed authentic and honest. It seemed to capture what many mothers must feel when they learn their unwed daughter is pregnant. The scene was powerful and moving and one of the acting highlights from the show.
The set and lighting design are other elements of this show that worked exceptionally well. I appreciated set designer Sean McLaughlin’s use of worn boards and thoughtful set pieces to set the background for the musical. The use of the stairways and simple props greatly enabled the show to move from scene to scene in a clippy and effective manner, allowing the show’s scene changes to never feel slow and drawn out. McLaughlin’s light design was wonderful in portraying the contrast and different emotions of the characters. For example, in the piece “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind (Reprise)” Moritz is bathed in a strong red light to convey his sense of despair; whereas Ilse is flooded with white light to signify the childhood memories she’s singing about.
Overall, Midvale Main Street Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening does an excellent job of showcasing incredible triple-threat talent. While many may find that Spring Awakening’s strong adult content is a turn-off, others will be able to see why the show’s theme of the disconnect between unyielding parents and their teenagers’ ignorance of sexual matters is so important and relevant. Those who leave this production of Spring Awakening will hopefully see how letting the genuine problems that teens face to go unnoticed and unchecked can lead to serious issues. Spring Awakening contains strong adult language and sexual content, so I advise viewer discretion.