|Posted on July 29, 2016 at 10:00 PM|
(Article originally published in Seattle Gay News: https://goo.gl/8ZbXol)
By Michael Strangeways
Lean mean theater companies seem to be learning that maybe it’s wiser (and more economical) to do shorter runs of productions. A four week long run used to be the norm but that’s changing. Two local theater companies in Seattle seem to be taking this to heart with shorter runs. Sound Theater Company is in its final weekend of a three week stint for their production of hot playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot while the very new theater company Basement Theatrics also goes into its second and final weekend of performances for their production of the musical Spring Awakening.
We’ll start with Spring Awakening, the brash musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 drama of the same name about the angst ridden lives of German teenagers that explores issues of repression, religion, political ideology and most of all, sexuality. Adapted into a hit Broadway musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater in 2006 and winning a slew of awards including Tony Awards and a Grammy for its cast album, the show also made stars out of its lead actors Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, and John Gallagher, Jr. The shows vibrant folk rock score, innovative mixing of staging and performance styles that emphasize the universality of its themes (confused horny teens are pretty much the same in 2016 as they were in 1891) and its youthful verve have made it a huge hit with regional theater companies the world over. Spring Awakening has already had a splashy Seattle debut in 2012 with Balagan Theatre’s “flamboyant” production that starred Jerick Hoffer, aka Jinkx Monsoon who went on to win the 5th season of the LOGO TV drag competition series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” the following year. The musical has also been staged by other small area theaters since then.
Basement Theatrics, a new young theater company headed by Moshe Henderson has jumped into the musical theater production arena by staging Spring Awakening at the 12th Avenue Arts complex on Capitol Hill, which seems to be a good choice for a company full of very young theater makers. This is obviously a show that plays to their strengths…a not too large cast of mostly very young talents and a stylized setting which can be kind to smaller budgets. Wisely sticking to the staging and design of the original Broadway production, this Spring Awakening does manage to put its own mark on the material with some clever staging and choreography choices by director Moshe Henderson and choreographer Elizabeth Posluns.
Technically and design wise, this production does teeter on the bare bones; the light grid is pretty skimpy and the mic system they chose seemed to be the bare bones package which gave them some issues on opening night (and since corrected, I’m told). Fortunately lighting designer Shannon Miller was able to work wonders with what she had, and the show is handsomely lighted.
Performance wise, the kids are mostly alright with standouts being charismatic leading man Michael Krenning as Melchior, the serious student who gets derailed by circumstances out of his control, and Tyler Rogers as the naughty, gay pragmatist Hanschen who learns how to play the system. It’s a handsome cast with some strong voices, though it should be noted the men do seem a bit more polished and better cast than the women. Both Ellen Dessler and Marcus Wolland offer up a variety of strong performances playing all the Adult male and female characters though a couple of their characterizations do get a wee bit too comic book “Cherman villain”. (It’s an English language adaptation/translation of a German play with all German characters. Either all the characters should have German accents or none of them. It makes no sense to have a couple characters sound like they wandered out of a Mel Brooks movie…)
Basement Theatrics has done a fine job, on a tiny budget, with this Spring Awakening. It’s recommended for fans of the material and those who support youth theater and young theater companies. Sheik and Sater’s delightful score is well performed and Wedekind’s powerful story still comes through. But, if you’re looking for high end production values and Equity polished casts, then it might not be the choice for you.