Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Spring Awakening"

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note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth

"Spring Awakening"

Reviewed by Sheila Barth

I hope you saw F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company, Inc.’s production of Tony, Grammy, Drama Desk Award-winning pop-rock opera hit, “Spring Awakening,” during its brief, two-week run at the Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre in Watertown.

The two-act, two-hour production was exquisitely delicate, bathed in P.J. Strachman’s soft lighting, with a symbolic, lyrical, balletic approach, thanks to multi-talented Artistic Director Joe DeMita, who directed and choreographed the play, and designed the set.

DeMita hides the centrally-located, six-piece band behind an artistic tree of life, with ropes hanging like vines, intertwining characters, while also serving as expressive props.

Music Director Steven Bergman and his talented group of musicians add just the right volume and tone to Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s music and lyrics, to intensify the play’s pathos, drama and sadness, yet effectively accompany performers.

“Spring Awakening” isn’t just a homage to young, teen-age love and awakening to their hormones. When German writer Frank Wedekind presented his play (written in 1890) for the first time in Germany, in 1906, then later in New York, in 1917, American critics labeled it pornographic. Actually, Wedekind subtitled his play, “A Children’s Tragedy,” focusing on adults‘ cruelty, folly, shortcomings, and hypocrisy, while errantly leaving teens to discover and handle their sexual rumblings on their own.

Jim Fitzpatrick is riveting in all roles as Adult Man, from cruel headmaster-teacher to teens Moritz’s and Melchior’s fathers, and a priest; as is Linda Goetz, whose roles as Adult Woman ranges from Wendla’s mother, who embarrassedly refuses to give her straight answers; Melchior’s sympathetic mom; Moritz’s passive mother; a risque’ piano teacher who seduces her male teen-age student, and cruel headmistress-teacher.

As the play opens, pretty, 15-year-old Wendla, dressed in a little-girl white dress that’s too young for her, asks her mother how babies are born. Alaina Fragoso as Wendla is sweetly innocent, her lovely voice, plaintive, in her opening solo, “Mama Who Bore Me”.

Handsome Jared Walsh as sophisticated, intelligent teen, Melchior Gabor, is outstanding as he deals with his adolescent sexuality, while trying to defend and help his less attractive, beaten-down schoolmate, Moritz Stiefel. Ben Sharton as Moritz is heart-rending, especially when his teachers pick on him and his father beats and torments him. Although he plays a weak, doomed character, Sharton’s fantastic voice dominates in all numbers.

Not so with Jackie Theoharis, portraying Moritz’s female counterpart, Ilse. She speaks and sings too softly, despite her powerful role as a downtrodden, waylaid teenager trying to find her way back.

And Matt Phillipps as gay Otto is comedic, yet compelling, especially when he lures timid Georg (Christian Masters) into a relationship with him. The entire cast and ensemble are outstanding. As key scenes occur, graceful dancers on both back corners of the small stage add dramatic interpretation.

When I saw the national touring company production of “Spring Awakening” at the Colonial Theatre in 2009, I disliked its bright-colored, flashing strobes, brassy sound effects, frenetic pace, and blatant sexuality that fast-forwarded like a spinning kaleidoscope out of control. It captured our attention, but not our emotion.

DeMita and Company have produced a startling expose of adolescent angst and adult misbehavior that occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s but resonates just as strongly today.

"Spring Awakening" (4 - 13 November)
@ Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box, 321 Arsenal Street, WATERTOWN MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide