Theatre: Spring Awakening

StageArt’s production of Spring Awakening is one of the best pieces of musical theatre to grace the Melbourne scene for some time.

For the uninitiated – Spring Awakening revolves around a group of teenagers in a provincial German town. The year is approximately 1890 and the conservative, religious values of the adult villagers have caused the stirrings of puberty to feel particularly alien, and uncomfortable for the teens. The opening scene of the musical depicts Wendla (artfully played by Jessie-Lou Yates) begging and pleading of her mother for a straight answer to the age old question. Where do babies come from? This interaction typifies what is to come. The dark comedy, the tragic anguish of innocence, and the joy of curiosity all fuse together.

For a show that focuses on a period of our life most of us feel like we have conquered and outgrown you may be surprised by how much the characters and plot remind you of your teenage drama. While most of us are well beyond the novelty of our adult bodies and habits, this play will help you reconnect with the wonder and fear of that transition. The characters, each with their own struggles and ambitions, must confront the obfuscation of sex and growth to conquer their own self doubt.

The musical is largely based on the stage play by Frank Wedekind, premiered in 1906. The play, due to its controversial themes, has often been censored and banned from being shown. In some ways a perfect kind of irony given the way that the characters find their education is being suppressed by adults who deem the truth to be too poisonous for young minds. The music, written by Duncan Sheik, is a mix of rock and folk with a Broadway sensibility. The songs may not be as wildly catchy and memorable as other musicals, but that would be overlooking the true charm of the show to discount it on this front. The music is emotional and expressive, providing lilt and tone. The narrative uses this music as a break that usually does not further the plot, rather pauses to meditate on feeling the moment. The lyricist, Steven Sater, has put together poetic and abstract lyrics that in modern parlance deftly build upon the feelings of the scene.

It’s in moments like this that Spring Awakening is at its most triumphant.

While the musical itself has proved a hit raking in 8 Tony awards, this production could be flat and tired if it were not for the stellar cast. Chapel off Chapel, while a reasonably modest play house, is host to talent that is of a first rate quality. Prepare to be impressed.

To name a few – Luisa Scrofani as Martha delivers a gripping and emotional performance. Brent Trotter is a convincing and moving Moritz; conveying nuance and depth to the character. Jordon Mahar as Georg demonstrates a formidable and talented vocal range with ease. Ashley Roussety stuns with talent in every which way and makes a distinctive and vivid Melchior. While these are a few that stood out particularly it must be mentioned that not a single member of this cast seemed to have any issue delivering a tremendous performance. The work these people have put in is evident and they own their performances.

Switching quickly from acting, song, and dance the cast carry off the hefty demands of this tremendous show effortlessly. The choreography moving from contemporary to borderline liturgical is delivered with commitment. They even manage to play their own instruments in some songs showing definitively that the level of talent on this stage is epic.

The subject matter is enthralling and insightful. The explicit and frank tone the show has is refreshing in a way that musical theatre rarely can be. It takes itself seriously, in the best way possible. The brash and honest nature of life is celebrated over the course of the show. The sordid and shameful feelings of puberty laid bare. Sneaking in an opportunity to masturbate. Secret trysts in questionable locales. The thirst that only knowledge of your body will quench. These are things any adult will be familiar with on some level, despite it being hard to discuss in earnest. The beauty of the show is these things are dealt with through a lens of inexperience, unknowing and curiousity. Much of the way adults discuss sexuality and bodies is free from the inherent mystery and intrigue. The magic is gone and we’re left with the mechanical, procedural details of sex. Spring Awakening makes no apologies for being forward with these issues, not skating around the obvious truths that are hidden from children and forgotten by adults. Sex is fun, your body is inscrutable, and life is not fair.

The only failings of this production is the over-complicated set that looks like it has been re-purposed from a high school theatre club and an array of awful German accents. Do not let this put you off! If you miss this show the loss is all yours.

Spring Awakening drags out the skeletons in your closet and digs up the graves of your teenage years. Dusting them off and propping them up on stage you will find new life breathed into forgotten issues. The performances are sure to dazzle and delight, all the while confronting you with basic human truths. There is something inherently wholesome and honest in this show that feels revolutionary.

Score: 9/10



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