SALT LAKE CITY — I think all theater nerds have a bucket list of shows they long to see but haven’t yet. For me, Spring Awakening was one of those shows; I missed it on Broadway and it isn’t performed often in Utah. So I was thrilled to hear that Hart Theater Company was inducting their new venue space with Spring Awakening. Not only does the company simply deserve credit for taking on this challenging show, it was superbly staged, acted and sung.

Part of the challenge of putting on Spring Awakening is that it asks a lot of the actors and audience; it contains a somber story with mature themes such as suicide, abuse, religion and more. However, it does try to lighten the mood with some humor from the teenage characters and sweet love stories, like the one between Hänschen and Ernst. Overall however, it is pretty heavy—focusing instead on a love story of two young students in 1890s Germany, Wendla and Melchior. Wendla is extremely naive and her mother lacks the courage to tell her about the facts of life. Melchoir, on the other hand, is fully aware of the ways of the world, both sexually and social/politically (he has books on these things!). When he and Wendla meet, he uses their relationship as a way to test out his rebellious theories on life, love and politics, with difficult consequences.

Show closes June 2. Credit: Brighton Sloan Photography

Melchoir is played by Maxx Teuscher who I have had the privilege to see in many roles over the years, and always delivers a commanding performance. The scene where Wendla (played by Tearza Leigh Foyston) asks him to whip her and he gets out of control is very difficult to pull off — but Teuscher displayed the right mixture of devastation and savagery. Wendla is also a tricky role because she is so naive, but Foyston makes the character believable without being overly sweet or cloying in the performance. I was also impressed with director Brooklynn Kohler’s staging of the “I Believe” intimacy scene. Wendla’s naivety brings into question how much consent is really at play here but Kohler’s execution of it was tender enough to work.

The character Moritz Stiefel, played by Geoff Beckstrand, is wracked with guilt and pressure to succeed in school, particularly from his strict father who beats him. His carrying of a pistol during “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” makes it clear that the character is on a razor’s edge of doing something catastrophic. Moritz is the most demanding role from an acting perspective and Beckstrand was up for the challenge. His acting was excellent and made me feel his character’s loneliness and despair — some audience members even cried. While Beckstrand isn’t the most polished singer I’ve ever heard, the rawness of some notes added to the character. Most importantly, his performance provokes empathy for the other students as they grieve the loss of their friend in the hauntingly beautiful “Left Behind”.

Credit: Brighton Sloan Photography

Scenic designer Chase Ramsey kept set design simple, with suspended strings of letters, wood panels in the background and some chairs used for everything from school desks to gravestones. Technically speaking, the lighting design by Kyle Esposito made the greatest impact. The production, staged in the black box at Lightree Studios, uses red and blue lighting to convey various themes like burgeoning sensuality, rebelliousness and despair. The production also featured a live five-person band, which at times over-powered the singers but was still very impressive for a small production.

It’s easy to compare Spring Awakening to Cabaret, which explores similar themes and is also set in Germany — both are valuable and interesting additions to the musical theatre canon. Spring Awakening was based on a German play from 1891 by Frank Wedekind and has music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics and book by Steven Sater. Some of the songs feel like they are trying too hard at times, ramming home themes like “Totally F****ed.” I’m not offended by that song, it’s just a little on-the-nose in my opinion—it feels as if Sater may not have trusted his themes and characters enough.

Hart’s production did include some of the expected small opening night jitters and foibles. But the small microphone and costume mishaps didn’t impede my enjoyment of this boldly told, well-acted musical. We should encourage productions like this so all kinds of stories can be told in Utah. I highly recommend checking out this awesome production of Spring Awakening at Hart Theater Company.

Spring Awakening runs Thursdays through Sundays, May 9 – June 2 at Lightree Studios 740 W 1700 S Suite 6 Salt Lake City. Tickets are $26.21-$31.46. For more info, visit 

These reviews are made possible by a grant from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks program.