Based on the late nineteenth century play of the same title by Frank Wendelkind, Spring Awakening is more popularly known today as an off-Broadway rock musical with poignant lyrics by Steven Sater and exceptional music by Duncan Sheik.
Under the direction of Robert Coates this year’s 2011 production is produced by the Young Australian Broadway Chorus (YABC) in association with Matthew Henderson. The play offers a glimpse into a tumultous period of history where society’s condemnation of sexual knowledge and freedom has tragic consequences for a group of young men and women who demand to know more.
A period production in terms of costume, langauge and certain mannerisms it was at its best a successful examination of how young people, anywhere in the world, tackled questions of sexuality when the knowledge is not forthcoming from the expected sources of parents, school and church.
Both Akeksa Kurbalija (Melchior) and Shannen Chin-Quan (Wendla) as the star-crossed lovers gave solid performances with some beautiful solo renditions that will can only gain power and strength in the coming years.
Liam Maguire (Moritz) and Georgia Treu (Martha) also deserve to be commended for their stand out performances while Mike Newman and Hester Van Der Vyer playing all the Adult Men and Adult Women respectively gave energetic and sucessfully distinctive performances for each of their roles.
A functional and well used set with multiple levels, very effective lighting and costumes that wouldn’t be all that hard to imagine in 1891 in Deutschland the play certainly ticks most boxes. Under the musical direction of Mathew Frank the orchestra did a fantastic job well earning the applause they received at the end, while the choreography by Stephen Agisilaou although good overall, varied significantly with some numbers being exceedingly well choreographed (‘The Bitch of Living’ and ‘Totally fucked’) while others could have been developed further.
Wavering accents and aussie twanged German pronounciation were slightly annoying as was the occasional teenage angst portrayal that shadowed some of the performances. However, it was interesting to note the direction taken in the scene in the hayloft. Originally chosen to be a rape scene it was often modified for the Broadway productions. Yet, despite the very aesthetic composition given to it, Coates’ direction was clearly not a ‘making love’ scene with Wendla’s repeated protests and Melchior’s determined pleading.
A powerful and well executed choice, yet unfortunately it was not explored further with Wendla’s serene admission that ‘I let him love me’ undermine the seriousness of the action. Rape, is never an easy subject to discuss and today when when young women have the support and strength to say NO! it is important to recognize that too often consensual sex is casually used to cover the crime.
Overall, Spring Awakening is a good production and certainly some powerful voices to watch for over the coming years. However, unless you wish to explore the tragedy of young men and women struggling against instiutionalism over a hundred years ago, the musical has for a contemporary audience wishing to examine the importance of the same issues today, limited dramatic appeal.