Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind's controversial 1891 play, hit New York big (after a 7-year development period), with a lauded Off-Broadway production followed by a Tony Award-winning Broadway production. Its braiding together of Wedekind's 19th century characters and modern musical presentation—including a pop-punk-ish score, hand held microphones and mosh pit style choreography—divided theatre fans. What is hammered home is that parents who try to suppress their childrens' sexuality are bad, whether they be in 1891 or 100-some years later, and sorrow will come to all. So the kids have to learn themselves, and everyone pays, through pregnancy (of a young woman who had no idea how the situation had come about because her mother didn't tell her the details), abuse and suicide. When the characters need to express their feelings, they pull a microphone out of their clothing, or drag one onto the stage, and sing about it, in modern language. For those who accept the premise, are open to the contemporary music, and won't squirm too much by watching teenagers in graphic sexual situations, it's an admirable riot of teen spirit.

The touring production of Spring Awakening features some very talented young actors. Their vocals are not quite as strong, especially compared to the original cast on CD. On opening night of the Pittsburgh stop, lead actor Kyle Riabko (Mechior) was out. Understudy, and CMU student, Perry Sherman was well prepared, but had an awful lot to carry on his shoulders. The undertaking progressively improved throughout the evening, but may have put the whole cast on a little shakier ground than usual.

Stand-outs in the cast include Blake Bashoff, as the intense Moritz (played, early on, with a little too much Tom-Hulce-in-Amadeus comedy), who has trouble tending to his schoolwork due to his emerging awareness of sexual feelings. Christy Altomare as Wendla, who finds love and lust with Melchior, is a lovely actress with a sweet, solid voice. Steffi D as Ilse, who has somehow found a way to be free-spirited, brings a confident and emotional voice. Matt Shingledecker (whose youthful lust involves fantasies of liaisons with his piano teacher) is terrific, and Ben Moss as Ernst doesn't overdo the comedy planned for his scene of homosexual awareness with Hanschen (Andy Mientus). Playing the roles of all the adults—from exaggerated tyrants to disinterested parents to one compassionate mother—are Angela Reed and Henry Stram. Both of these actors go above and beyond, creating a number of vivid characters with their great versatility.

A visit to Wikipedia may help newbies, as things may be a little confusing, especially with a fully decorated (and nicely done) but not too illuminating set by Christine Jones and lyrics that may be difficult to discern (and are replete with expletives, which may be distracting for some) for those unused to contemporary music. Duncan Sheik's music, however, can be enjoyed by all. It is intricate, infectious and often beautiful.

Spring Awakening in Pittsburgh at Heinz Hall through May 31. For more information about the tour, visit http://www.springawakening.com/.

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

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