SPRING AWAKENINGBook & Lyrics by Steve Sater, Music by Duncan Sheik, Based on the play by Frank Wedekind
Directed by – Derek Whitener
Music Director – Esther Lim
Choreographer – Christina Kudlicki Hoth
Set Design – Kevin Brown
Lighting Design – Scott Davis
Costume Design – Victor Newman Brockwell
Sound Design – Danica Bergeron
Properties Design – Kristin Burgess, Connie Hay
Stage Manager – Devon Miller
Erika Larson – Wendla Bergman
Lindsay Hayward – Adult Female
Beth Lipton – Ilse Neumann
Kate Dressler – Martha Bessell
Lara McCall Whitley – Thea
Taylor Nash – Anna
Jocelyn Draper – Mianna Wheelan
Justin Duncan – Melchior Gabor
Aaron Jakaboski-Herr Rilow
Joey Donoian – Moritz Stiefel
Mark Tam Quach – Georg Zirschnitz
Michael Anthony Sylvester – Otto Lammermeir
Will Carleton – Ernst Robel
Carlos Strudwick – Ulbrecht
Everett Bichera – Reinhold
Jake Nice – Rupert
Dan Servetnick – Adult Male
(If show is double cast, next to CAST include “for reviewed performance”, no quotes.)
Reviewed Performance: 5/21/2016
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The original Broadway production opened in 2006 racking up 859 performances. The musical earned eleven Tony Award nominations, winning eight, including Best Musical, Best Direction, Best Book, and Best Score. In 2015, the musical had its first revival, but with a very unique element. Deaf West Theatre opened the musical in Los Angeles in the fall of 2014. What made this version so special was that the cast was comprised of both hearing and non-hearing actors, where the show was presented synchronously in spoken English and American Sign Language. The revival arrived on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, running for 135 performances. Just this month it received three Tony Award nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical. Due to the cast now spread out all over the country in other shows, the producers have created a crowd-funding campaign to support the cost of rehearsing and performing a musical number from the show on the 2016 Tony Awards telecast, which will be broadcast June 12 on CBS. To make a donation you can go to www.GetSpringOnTheTonys.com (which is tax deductible). The campaign is seeking to raise $200,000 by June 11. So far they have raised $7,318.
For Runway’s version of Spring Awakening, Kevin Brown's scenic design is paired up with Scott Davis’s lighting design, creating a visually stunning show. Simple chairs and ladders with dead tree limbs and an old wooden fence made up the bulk of the set, combined with clever use of the piano on a moving platform. The rest of the band was above the stage or, as with those playing string instruments, wandering about. Including them in the stage action was an original, magical concept. Scott Davis’s lighting design is what made it all come to life, though. Rich colors and bright spotlights were used beautifully throughout to underscore the mood of each scene. It is no wonder he has several COLUMN Awards under his belt for his Lighting Design.
I wish Victor Newman Brockwell’s costumes had been as clever. The girls were all dressed as though they were playing 5 year olds and most of the boys were in short pants and jackets, which were better considering the prep school setting (but wouldn't they have been in matching uniforms?) but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the time period was supposed to be, and since there was no mention of it in the program, I had to resort to the internet after the fact. The girls had their hair in conservative braided styles which were nicely consistent, but about half of the boys had modern haircuts, which was distracting. The Adult Male and Adult Female seemed to be in pseudo steam punk costumes, and there was so little change among all of their characters' costumes that at first I couldn't always tell who they were supposed to be.
The orchestra was great, although as is typical of every musical I've seen locally lately, they were too loud, even with the cast having body mics on. The solos, especially by some of the women were hard to hear, although the intricate harmonies in the full company numbers were excellent.
I wasn't familiar with Spring Awakening in any form before seeing it at Runway, and as visually appealing as their production was, I think the show as a whole has some issues. With only one upbeat number in the second act, it really dragged and I found myself checking my watch. The first half fares much better, as it clips along at a much faster pace.
Director Derek Whitener has cast his show quite well. Erika Larson had just the right amount of innocence and whimsy as Wendla, and that combined with her sweet singing voice made her a very watchable character. She was paired with Justin Duncan as Melchior, who was very strong and definitely carried the show. Not an easy role, he had to be both young and worldly, strong yet vulnerable, and likeable and a bit off-putting at the same time. He did a flawless job of making all those characteristics melt together to create a well-rounded person.
Joey Donoian was fantastic as Moritz Stiefel, both in his acting and his singing. The raw emotion he exuded at all times was phenomenal, especially considering the vast emotional range he had to portray.
The ensemble also worked well together, bringing the rest of the story to life. Kate Dressler stood out in her dark, haunting solo revealing why she has body bruises, “The Dark I Know Well,” and Beth Lipton was excellent as Ilse, despite the script flaws, in that her story really started too late, making one wonder where she came from in Act II, as she really just wandered around in the first act. As she and Ms. Larson were the only ones who changed clothes, I was again a bit confused by the book for this musical.
Lindsay Hayward and Dan Servetnick covered all of the adult roles, which was confusing at first, but their subtle acting choices made each character just enough different that once I realized what was happening, I was quite impressed with their performances.
A few other notable performances: Aaron Jakaboski, Mark Tam Quach, and Taylor Nash had amazing stage presence without stealing focus. I also loved that multiple people played the stringed instruments that transformed into becoming "characters" within the production.
Spring Awakening is one of those odd musicals that can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. Some of the songs are more traditional, while others are decidedly not. The cast fared much better on those that were not, due in part to Christina Kudlicki Hoth’s unique choreography. The jerky, high energy movement was really fun to watch, and coupled with Esther Lin’s excellent musical direction, those moments in the show really shined. As much as I enjoyed those numbers, however, I had trouble making the connection between the storyline, the period and setting, and the songs. This is not the fault of the production, but, again, with the book and score.
As I mentioned, I was not familiar with the play or the musical before seeing Runway’s production of Spring Awakening, but I went because it’s one I’ve wanted to see for some time. That, and I know Runway’s reputation for doing terrific work. I was not disappointed. I do encourage you to buy your tickets quickly, as the performance I was at was already sold out.
Runway Theatre, 215 N Dooley St, Grapevine, TX 76051
Runs through June 12
Actual days: Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm and Sunday and 3:00pm. Tickets are $22-25. For info and to purchase tickets, go to www.runwaytheatre.com or call the box office at 817-488-4842.