Spring Awakening, the 2006 Tony Award winning rock musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater (based off the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind), is the inaugural production by Tri-Cities Young Adult (TCYA) Theatre. An ambitious and somewhat controversial show, Spring Awakening follows a group of German high schoolers as they grapple with life, death, sex, and love with a score that alternates from haunting and alluring to percussive and aggressive.
Directors Jack Doyle and Hadley Gorsline assembled a tight fourteen person ensemble that filled the small blackbox theatre with energy and electricity. Jack Horrigan as Melchior and Betsy Miller as Wendla were well-cast as the musical’s two leads. Melchior is an exceptionally challenging role both vocally and emotionally, and Horrigan certainly has the talent to meet it. Although Horrigan must display vast character shifts as the play progresses, I was most captivated by his subtler moments, in particular his Act II solo “Left Behind.”
The cast was filled with great voices (thanks to Music Director Jackson Duffy), and none was more controlled and mellifluous than Miller’s. Her voice fit Wendla’s character beautifully, making the audience empathize with her all the more; especially in songs like “Whispering,” where Miller made us ache with hope. A challenge for both leads is to grapple with characters whose relationship veers so wildly in different directions, going from apathy to infatuation, from abused to inseparable. The script and music certainly keep pushing them from one character shift to another, but thankfully Horrigan and Miller both largely succeed in doing so.
As the sexually confused best friend Moritz, Cameron Plarske literally quakes as hormones and emotions rage through his body. Plarske is a fitting counterpoint to Horrigan’s Melchoir, and as Moritz, Plarske’s physical electricity matches his vocal dexterity--what a voice! Plarske’s boundless energy worked excellently for Moritz throughout the majority of the show, but finding more moments of stillness (such as his captivating notes in “Those You’ve Known”) could provide even more depth to this troubled character.
Karly Laskowski rounds out the principal roles as Ilse, the damaged free-spirit who runs away to join an artists’ colony. Laskowski provides contrast in her two duets, “The Dark I Know Well” (ably joined by Alena Ramos’ Martha) and “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind,” using both songs to show two different paths for defiance. In an intriguing turn, directors Doyle and Gorsline chose to make Laskowski’s Ilse omnipresent throughout the show, an observer to most of the plots main action. A bold directorial choice that on the whole was interesting and effective; it helped shift Spring Awakening to more of a female-powered story and less a “man-learns-lesson-because-women-suffer” (yes, we see you Game of Thrones...). However, because Ilse isn’t verbally introduced until halfway through Act I (and not officially until Act II), there is a danger that it may leave some audience members confused if they are unfamiliar with the show.
The set, also designed by directors Doyle and Gorsline, was sparse yet functional, reminiscent of a fractured hayloft that was nimbly used for most of the scene changes. Lighting by Jaden O’Berry used localized light to highlight the action and stark colors to heighten the theatrical nature of the production. The dueling pink and blue motif in “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” was especially appreciated. Costumes by Doyle and Callie Decorte (who also stage managed) were understated yet effective. Sound by Drea Brown relied on canned music, and thanks to mic’ing all the actors, even more volume could be pumped out to really hit the rock numbers.
Choreography by Nina Groll was impressive, with each number having a clear and unique vision that was well-executed by the cast. Groll went from an ethereal vibe using white silks in “Mirror Blue Night” to riser-rocking energy in “Totally F*cked.” However, occasionally there were so many interesting things happening with the ensemble that it was possible to lose focus on the soloists. But it is a rock musical, after all!
TCYA’s three night run is already sold-out, but if you can snag a ticket at the door and seek challenging content with adult themes, you owe it to yourself to see this excellent production!
Spring Awakening plays this weekend, Fri, June 21 through Sun, June 23 at 8pm in Saginaw Valley State University’s Black Box Theatre in Curtiss Hall.
Seats can be reserved here. Tickets are free, donations appreciated.
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