|Posted on July 25, 2016 at 10:00 PM|
There are those moments when one meets a creative talent in their earliest moments of ascension into greatness. I felt like I had one of those encouters this afternoon when I had the privilege to review Basement Theatrics production of the 2006 Tony Award winning Rock Musical “Spring Awakening”. Moshe Henderson has brilliantly staged an upbeat modern rock opera placed in a German Village at the end of the 19th Century. Spring Awakening explores the developing sexual desires of adolecents in a late 19th century German Village. The show opens with sweet naive Wendla Bergman played by Jayne Hubbard asking her mother Frau Bergman played by Ellen Dessler (who plays all the adult female roles in the production) where babies come from in the number “Mama who Bore Me”. Wendla’s mother cannot bring herself to explain conception to young daughter so she tells Wendella a woman conceives when she loves her husband with all her heart.
While at school while the boys are studying Virgil in Latin class and Moritz Stiefel played by Marshall Link receives a severe verbal lashing from Headmaster Knochenbruch played by Marcus Wolland (who plays all the adult male roles in the production). His friend Melchior Gabor who is brilliantly played by Michael Krenning defends Moritiz who questions the shallow narrow-mindedness of society and expresses his intent to change things "All That’s Known". Moritz confides in Melchior he is having so much trouble in school because he keeps getting this disturbing erotic dreams. Melchior explains to Moritz these dreams are not signs of insanity, as he had believed. These dreams were normal for all adolescents. Moritz and Malchior sing about their frustrations with the other boys Hänschen Rilow played by Tyler Rogers, Ernst Röbel played by Patrick Ostrander, Georg Zirschnitz played by Max Lopuszynski, and Otto Lämmermeier played by Alexander Killian in “The Bitch of Living”.
Wendla and the other girls, Martha Bessell played by Alisa Muench, Thea played by Maddy Rassmussen, Anna played by Anna Burke, Ilse played by Nikki Delmarter laugh and teach each other about the boys they want to marry. The boys and the girls both sing about their frustrations of their need for intimacy in “Touch Me”. The rest of the first act is spent delving into the complexities and the restrictions adolescents face when becoming adults. Not much is held back in the manner of subject matter yet the script and music do an excellent job of balancing the need for story driven plot elements and the pure youthful joy of celebration.
The play takes a darker turn as the conflict between the good intentions of the adult characters class with the hopes and dreams of the adolescents. The show deals with coming into sexual maturity, desires for intimacy, healthy sexual expression, child abuse/neglect, running away from home, homosexuality, teen pregnancy, abortion, and suicide—all of which the cast navigates with sincere honesty and a love for the work.
Kudos to Moshe Henderson for snappy staging and direction which communicated the reflective thoughts of the characters while allowing the audience to visually see the movement from the inner personal worlds of the characters to the outer world where they interact with each other. I have seldom seen movable staircases used as effectively as I have in this production. The choreography by Elizabeth Posluns was up beat and interesting. Shannon Miller’s lighting design heightened the intensity and dramatic impact of several key moments in the production. There were moments the lighting was very reminiscent of silk-screened propaganda art of the era, which gave an eerie somberness to those moments. The sound was problematic at times with various characters not having their voices properly balanced in the soundboard, which distracted from some of the actors performances. When one performs in a black box theater such as the theater in the 12th Avenue Arts building, performances and staging become paramount. The Audience relies heavily on the performances by the actors and the staging. In this production all elements come together seamlessly save the costuming. Every other visual cue gave me the impression this story takes place at the end of the 19th Century in a small town in Germany. The costuming gave a hodgepodge impression this story takes place prior to the rise of the Third Reich at the end of the 1920’s early 1930’s. The length of both the boys’ shorts and the girls’ dresses were too high for the time period. I also feel there was very little in the way of communicating differences between the adult characters. It wasn’t until the end of the first act the adults were different characters played by the same actors.
Overall the entire cast does a spectacular job of singing together as a cohesive ensemble—with no singular voice demanding attention away from the others. I found the acting performances to be genuine and sincere. As long as I have enjoyed live theater, which has been much of my life, there is always one performer who stands out above the rest. I must pause and comment on the level of depth and emotional range exhibited by Michael Krenning in the lead character Melchior. This is a dynamic performer I look forward to seeing more performances from.