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Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

Spring Awakening
Slow Burn Theatre Company
Review by John Lariviere | Season Schedule

Also see John's recent review of Bullets Over Broadway


Stephanny Noria and Bobby Cassell
Photo by Gemma Bramham
Slow Burn Theatre Company presents the rock musical Spring Awakening. Based on the 1891 German play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, the musical features a book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik. Expressionist playwright Wedekind was a major influence on the development of epic theatre. His work often criticized bourgeois attitudes towards sex, exemplified in the Wedekind quote "Search fearlessly for every sin, for out of sin comes joy." Spring Awakening was banned in Germany for almost a century due to its controversial nature.

Set in late nineteenth-century Germany, Spring Awakening focuses on teenagers dealing with the pains of sexual self-discovery in a repressed society. Their questions and concerns are no different than those of any other teenager in the throngs of puberty. These teenagers are so poorly prepared and supported, however, that their explorations are met with disastrous effects. The script deals with masturbation, abortion, homosexuality, rape, bondage, child abuse, and suicide. The folk-infused rock score is written with great attention to the emotional tension of every scene. The moments of frustration and longing are undeniably written in each song, and at times uniquely allow a musical dialogue between the instruments and the singer(s).

I love the rich orchestrations for this score and its use of stringed instruments. A scaled-down live band led by music director Caryl Fantel does a lovely job playing the score, though some of the depth and texture of a full orchestra is missed.

The sound system shows marked improvement over the last two Slow Burn productions attended. Powerful and poetic, it would be a shame to miss a word or a note of the story and the music of Spring Awakening, so this is a happy development. The only sound issue is in the song "The Bitch of Living" when individual lines are overpowered by ensemble backup singing. As this song establishes many of the boys' backstories, it leaves some audience members in the dark.

This production also makes use of two featured vocalist singing in the background with hand-held microphones. Their presence is thematically unclear, and at times they are visually distracting. Though this is a generally strong production, it bears mentioning that some additional attention needs to be paid to dialect work—I heard an audience member ask if the show took place in Germany or Ireland because of the accents.

All of the adult roles are deftly played by Matthew Korinko and Kaitlyn O'Neill. Having seen two national tours of this show, I can say that their performances are by far the cleanest, with each individual adult being distinctly different and the framing and defining of their presence in each scene clear. Speaking of staging, director Patrick Fitzwater has highlighted any possible comedic moments through focused staging, and in a relatively heavy script finding some humor is a relief.

Stephany Noria is a revelation as Wendla. Her performance is honest, vulnerable, and without artifice. She is well matched with handsome and tenderhearted Bobby Cassell as Melchior. Cassell captures the well-meaning nature of his character, but does not delve deeply enough into conveying the confusion borne from the painful and unjust occurrences with which his good intentions are met. Cameron Jordan is wonderfully tormented and conflicted as Moritz. Though his vocal skills are not as strong as his acting he establishes a character that is tremblingly one step away from emotionally falling apart. We are drawn to watch him on his journey to its seemingly inevitable end.

Slow Burn successfully continues to make steps in its own journey toward consistent quality in its productions.

The musical Spring Awakening had several workshops, concerts and rewrites over a seven-year period before it premiered Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company on May 19, 2006, running through August 5, 2006. A Broadway production opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on December 10, 2006, running through January 18, 2009 for 888 performances, and received eight Tony Awards (including Tonys for Best Musical, Best Direction, Best Book, Best Score and Best Featured Actor).

The Slow Burn Theatre production of Spring Awakening will be appearing through April 3, 2016, in the Amaturo Theater of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is located in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. For tickets or other information, call 954-462-0222, or visit www.slowburntheatre.com.

Cast:
Wendla: Stephanny Noria
The Adult Women: Kaitlyn O'Neill
Martha: Christina Flores
Ilse: Jessica Brooke Sanford*
Anna: Jen Chia
Thea: Leigh Green
The Adult Men: Matthew Korinko
Otto/Ulbrecht: Corey Vega
Hanschen/Rupert: Daniel Kies
Ernst/Reinhold: Brian Varela
Georg/Dieter: Eytan Deray
Moritz: Cameron Jordan
Melchior: Bobby Cassell*
Featured Vocalists: Rick Pena, Alexis Robinson

Crew:
Director/Choreographer: Patrick Fitzwater
Music Director: Caryl Fantel
Scenic Design: Sean McClelland
Lighting Design: Becky Montero
Costume Design: Rick Pena
Stage Manager: Britni Serrano

*Indicates a member of Actor's Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States


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