Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Spring Awakening
Round House Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Merry Wives of Windsor and A Thousand Splendid Suns

Evan Daves and Cristina Sastre
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Director Alan Paul has had a very busy few months, following his transporting Peter Pan and Wendy at the Shakespeare Theatre Company with an utterly different view of growing up, Spring Awakening, in a blistering production at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Tony Award-winning musical by Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) adapts Frank Wedekind's notorious play from 1891, which laid out the truth about adolescent behavior constrained by repressive adult authority. Paul's staging is deliberately non-realistic, while Paul McGill's choreography shifts between extremes: at times cast members lie in a heap, rising up to life, crawling across the floor or posing on the central turntable on Adam Rigg's scenic design; at other times they posture in aggressive attitudes that reveal their angst and frustration. The central focus of Rigg's set is a mural of the Garden of Eden that covers the entire rear wall; a few chairs, mirrored side walls, and a few doors represent all the settings.

While societies and expectations change over time, teenagers will always face situations they don't understand and can't cope with. Three characters are at the center of the drama: Melchior (Evan Daves), a brilliant and kind student, scandalizes both his peers and the adults by his rational (theoretical) attitude toward sex and his skepticism about religion; Moritz (Sean Watkinson) is running himself ragged trying to live up to his father's expectations; and Wendla (Cristina Sastre) has no idea where babies come from and no one who will answer her questions. Other characters deal with emotional manipulation, physical and sexual abuse at home, and questions about sexual orientation.

The young actors wear nondescript black and white school uniforms (designed by Sarah Cubbage) but have contemporary hairstyles, including dye jobs in vivid green, magenta, and bright red. Tonya Beckman and Bobby Smith, who represent all the adult authority figures, shift their performance style from earnest (sympathetic but clueless parents) to cartoonish (school authorities).

Six musicians led by conductor and keyboardist James Cunningham provide a rich accompaniment from behind the scenes.

Spring Awakening runs through February 23, 2020, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda MD. For tickets and information, please call 240-564-1100 or visit

Book and lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind
Directed by Alan Paul
Choreographer: Paul McGill
Music Director: James Cunningham

Wendla: Cristina Sastre
Martha: Chani Wereley
Thea: Kalen Robinson
Anna: Katie Rey Bogdan
Ilse: Jane Bernhard
Melchior: Evan Daves
Moritz: Sean Watkinson
Ernst/Reinhold: James Mernin
Georg/Dieter: Carson Collins
Otto/Ulbrecht: Michael Mainwaring
The Adult Women: Tonya Beckman
The Adult Men: Bobby Smith