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Monday, 08 October 2012 00:30

'Spring Awakening' in full bloom at Stray Dog Theatre

Written by Robert Mitchell
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straydogtheatre.org
straydogtheatre.org

The tensions of adolescence blossom into full bloom at an nineteenth-century boarding school.

“In the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love” says Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his poem Locksley Hall, and evidently, so does a young woman’s. However, when parental units deliberately withhold delicate information from their children, disaster can and will happen, as is evidenced in the Tony Award-winning rock musical version of Spring Awakenings, book by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, based on the little produced play by Frank Wedekind – now showing at Stray Dog Theatre.

Set mainly at a boarding school in Germany in the late nineteenth century, the story begins when virginal young Wendla, fresh on the heels of becoming an aunt for the second time in her young life, asks how that miraculous event even happens. Her skittish mama skirts the issue by only telling her that babies happens when a man and his wife love each other, and it seems that all the town’s other girls get the same treatment from their moms. Meanwhile, wunderkind Melchior is busy calming best bud, Moritz, who, lately, is having trouble concentrating and fears that he is going insane because of these strange erotic dreams he has at night. Melchoir assures him that it happens to all young men, and quickly whips up a guide on all things sexual, complete with illustrations.

When Melchior meets Wendla, their schoolyard banters turns serious as they realize that their bodies have developed a language of their own that kicks into high gear whenever they are near each other. Naturally, as teens are wont to do, they experiment, with smartypants Melchy leading the way. Meanwhile, the headmasters at the school, sensing the strange shift in the air, determine that the only way to focus their young students minds back to their studies is to flunk out a scapegoat, mainly the unfocused Moritz. Thus, a chain of events is set into motion that devastatingly and forever changes the lives these young children, most of who baarely understand what has happened.  Justin Been directs, helping us bridge the gap between yesterday  (the story of innocent youth) and today – (the music and lyrics of an angsty generation). Musical direction by Chris Petersen, leading an awesome rock band, complete with a string quartet, is tight and never over-bearing (although once again some lyrics are lost due to the struggles of  mic amplication in the Stray Dog space) . The set by David Blake is my favorite Stray Dog set to date, and lighting by Tyler Duenow and costumes by Alexandra Scibetta Quigley aptly straddle the classical and the contemporary. Choreography by J.T. Ricroft is unabashedly contemporary, and fits the indie-rock-inspired music like a glove.

A vibrant, young (and mostly unknown, to me) cast all sing and deliver well as an ensemble, and they are obviously very much in touch with the material – most probably having dealt with these same feelings not too very long ago. Zach Wachter as the brilliant Melchoir has the right sense of both leadership and detachment, which allows him to burst into both outrage and shattering sorrow – and his singing voice is clear and strong. Melissa Southmayd as Wendla, is all sweetness, naïvete, and budding womanhood, and her singing voice matches Wachter’s well in clarity. Ryan Foizey as Moritz has a great manic energy, but when sorrow hits him in the second half, it’s palpable, and pitiable. Both Meadow Nguy as Martha and Anna Skidis as Ilse have powerhouse solos that are among the best in the show, and Jan Niehoff and Keith Thompson handle the roles of ALL of the adult characters in the town with skill – both the  sympathetic ones and the simply terrifying ones.

Fine supporting work is given by the rest of the ensemble, all who have shining moments of their own: Paul Cereghino, C. E. Fifer, Evan Fornachon, Anthony Christopher Milfelt, Natalie Sannes and Sabra Sellers.

Obligatory warning: There is a tiny bit of nudity, and some language, assuredly all of it enhancing the story, but so ya know: it happens.

If you haven’t had a chance to see this Tony award-winning show, you should consider heading to this fine production before it sells out. Spring Awakening continues at Stray Dog Theatre in Tower Grove Abbey  through October 20th. For tickets or more information, visit straydogtheatre.org , or call 314-865-1995.

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