Also see Susan's review of Good People
Olney Theatre Center, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, is kicking off its 75th-anniversary season with an electric production of Spring Awakening. It's a jolting new direction for Olney, whose musicals have often seemed comfortably tradition-bound, and the first production since the company hired Jason Loewith (co-author of Adding Machine: A Musical) as its artistic director.
Authors Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) based their musical on Frank Wedekind's incendiary, if infrequently performed, play from 1891. It follows several German high school students through the minefield of adolescencespecifically, the physical and psychological torments of sexin a world dominated by autocratic parents and teachers.
While the authors have maintained the original setting and time period, they had the inspired idea of allowing the teenagers to express their feelings through raggedly emotional rock songs. Director Steve Cosson sets the action out of time on Adrian Jones' largely bare set, illuminated with an ever-shifting, occasionally blasting light plot designed by Robert Wierzel. (Metal kitchen chairs stand in for scenery, except for a backlit row of trees, and Sarah Beers has costumed the adults in Victorian outfits and the young people in more contemporary school uniforms.)
Cosson is working with three intensely talented singing actors in the difficult lead roles. Alyse Alan Louis gives a heartbreaking performance as Wendla, a girl whose need to experience life leads her to both revelatory joy and bafflement. Parker Drown brings great dignity in the doomed Moritz, and Matthew Kacergis is commanding as Melchior, a freethinker whose outspokenness gets him into trouble. In the adult roles, Ethan Watermeier and Liz Mamana range from broad parody (playing up the repressed attraction between the school headmaster and his proper secretary) to honest emotion (Melchior's mother). The rest of the cast is also fine.
Musical director Christopher Youstra leads an impassioned orchestra whose work adds to the immediacy of the experience.
Olney Theatre Center