The plot revolves around a group of young German students as they find themselves struggling with adolescence and their burgeoning sexuality. The struggle therein is only compounded by the oppression of their parents, teachers, and religious leaders and the hyper-conservative rules and values of the society of the time. They lament constantly of the hypocrisy and façades of their respective authority figures. In reality, they are only trying to understand themselves in light of their blooming bodies, and the discoveries they come to are made through violence, ignorance and fear.
There is a fierce tenacity with the students on stage. The musical itself is a rock opera and the lyrics come off as something you'd hear from a band like Green Day or Blink 182. The music highlights the ferocious energies and passions of the teenage characters. Punk influenced songs like "The Bitch of Living" carry the violent force of the young people, but we also see the more emotional and vulnerable sides of the characters in ballads such as "Touch Me." The energy and passion is non-stop. There are so many plot threads that tie together seamlessly that hardly a moment passes where you're not at the edge of your seat.
The musical is based on the play of the same name by the German playwright Frank Wedekind. His play was banned in Germany when first written and is often still censored for its frank depiction of sexuality and that especially of children. In 2006, after a successful run Off Broadway, this musical adaptation written by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik opened on Broadway to much acclaim, winning a total of eight Tony Awards. I was happy to hear that it would be staged at UNM this season. Any hesitation I had regarding performances by young theater students was quickly dispelled upon hearing the first sung lines by Andee Schray as Wendla. I came to appreciate that the actors themselves are students and young persons; the passion and despair necessary for the portrayal of the characters seems effortlessly achieved if not actively present within the actors and actresses themselves.
Stafford Douglas who plays Melchior has a stunning voice and is a fantastic talent. Cory Meehan as Melchior's best friend Moritz is equally talented as a singer, though a bit stiff in choreography. I enjoyed the performance of Andrew Melendez as Georg as well. Harrison Sim is an excellent Hanschen, in that his character is obnoxiously arrogant, which is very comical. The group of young girls in the play, led by Andee Schray, with Alexandra Uranga as Martha and Tami Leah Lacy as Ilse, are excellent. Their performances and solos are emotionally raw and heartbreaking. The other actors and actresses are on point with their choreography, singing and acting. There is nary a weak link in the group.
The set is intricate and well designed. It is designed so that a number of ladders and staircases can be moved around to create a sort of industrial looking playground. The lighting is beautiful, and the costumes are appropriately matched to the mise-en-scène. I always appreciate a live orchestra and am even more excited when the orchestra is on stage. I have no exact articulable reason for this peculiar preference but I feel it adds to the caliber of the performance.
The play is not for young audiences and, as noted earlier, there is a certain level of disdain for authority as a major theme. There is a bit of cursing in the music and frank sexual language and material throughout. None of the subject matter is easyit's a tragedy through and through. This is a violent clash of a playits characters do not come out on the other side safe or unscathed. It's a harsh critique of society, showing evils born out of religious legalism, censorship and hypocrisy. It may be easy for us to either champion or disregard this play because of its sexual nature, but it's hardly the kind of play with one message or point.
I highly recommend this production. It is performing at the Rodey Theater inside the UNM Center for the Arts next door to Popejoy. Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30, and Sundays at 2 till November 17. You can call the UNM Ticket office at 925-5858 or visit online at theatre.unm.edu. Tickets are $20 general, $15 for seniors, and $12 for students and staff.
Photo: Pat Berret