Spring Awakening: Review

The fine acting, very good singing and spirited dancing are a testament to the growth of IU’s BFA Musical Theatre program.

Melchior and Maddie in intimate embrace

Photo: John Kinzer

Luke Denison as Melchior and Maddie Shea Baldwin as Wendla in a pivotal moment of awakening.

Event Information

Spring Awakening

based on a play by Frank Wedekind, book and lyrics by Steven Sater, music by Duncan Sheik


Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center

Nov 2, 3, 6-9 at 7:30 pm. Nov 10 at 2 pm and 7:30 pm

Spring Awakening is a musical based on a nineteenth century play by Frank Wedekind that called for more sympathetic and intellectual understanding between parents and teenagers. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s adaptation is described as a rock musical. Although it has its percussive moments, but in the hands of musical director Ray Fellman and the cast, the emphasis of Spring Awakening is on moody lyricism.

The show opens as the vulnerable Maddie Shea Baldwin as Wendla wanders onto Dan Tracy’s raked thrust stage with its back drop of tall graceful transparent glass trees. From her brief hands to chest move we’re to understand that her sad love song “Mother Who Bore Me” expresses her anger about her confusion about the physical changes of puberty.

The six shorts and jackets clad male students of the tiny village are percussively pissed about school, about restrictions, and  about the pressures of puberty.  For their opener choreographer Lisa Gennaro has the boys, led by the energetic Luke Denison as Melchior,  use their classroom chairs—they’re almost all of the props for the show—to create quite a racket and then to work as a variety of platforms for some serious gymnastics.

The more variedly costumed girls also get into the act with a dance of frustration. It’s just as jagged but less mechanically organized and apparently a bit more creative than that of the boys.

The boys’ ignorant frustrations are worked out in an arts based creative fashion with comic but determined pantomime.  The sturdy Colin Shreier as Otto works out his frustrations to the excitement of Othello’s musings on the attraction of Desdemona.  The more dexterous Nick Pecoraro is a bit more direct with a fantasy involving his piano teacher. Things darken substantially as Brook Wood, Martha, admits that her father beats and  abuses her and the cast joins for the song “The Dark I Know Well.”

Melchior gives in to Wendla’s desire to know how it would feel to be beaten and the mix of passion, guilt and teen juices lead to mostly clothed intercourse in the center of the stage. The rest of the stage is filled by the entire cast singing “I Believe” as the lights go down ending the first act.  Ironically, it’s a song that has just a bit of a revival meeting feel.

Act one of Spring Awakening is all about setting things up. Act Two is all about consequences and developments. Melchior’s friend Moritz, the personable Nat Zagree, bowing to the pressures of adolescent development and a stiff curriculum has flunked out of school. Abandoned by his parents, despite the encouragement of rebel and childhood friend Ilse, the sympathetic Lexi Lessaris, he kills himself. Melchior is discovered to have written an essay, complete with drawings, to explain sex to Moritz and is blamed in his death. Melchior recognizes that he’s going down for it and leads one of the clearest songs in the show, chorusing on “Blah, blah, blah.”

Meanwhile, in one of the most erotic scenes of Spring Awakening Zach Stewart as the pragmatic Hanschen introduces the delicate Ernst, Markus McClain to the possibilities of the words of their bodies.

While Melchior is in reform school, Wendla has a botched abortion and dies. The ignorant Melchior returns for a church yard reunion only to find her new grave next to Moritz’s. After a sad trio with the two ghosts, Ilse leads the ensemble in a vaguely optimistic song about the inevitable coming of summer as it follows spring.

Throughout, the show Chloe Williamson and Evan Mayer play all of the adult characters with a nice feel for the authority of their  similarities and differences.

George Pinney directs the tight production. The fine acting, very good singing and spirited dancing are a testament to the growth of IU’s BFA Musical Theatre program.  Creative lighting is by Lee Burkes. Sound design by Andrew Hopson and Dan Cantin was quite effective during the second act and later performances should benefit.

Spring Awakening at the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Centre continues with 7:30 pm performances November 6-9 and November 10 performances and 2 and 7:30.

At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker.

George Walker

After completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

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