Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beck Center for the Arts: Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening is one of my favorite musicals and the only musical I've stalked across the country, seeing the First National Tour seven times in four states (Cleveland, Ohio; Pittsburgh and Philadelphia [twice], Pennsylvania; Orange County, California; Detroit [twice], Michigan) and I was fortunate enough to score on-stage seats for one of the Philadelphia and both of the Detroit performances.

A compelling story about adolescent angst, love, and fitting in, Spring Awakening featured music by pop musician Duncan Shiek and book and lyrics by Steven Sater. While buying my first ticket to the first performance at PlayhouseSquare (incidentally, I don't think anything nearly as compelling has appeared since, though I have hopes for Memphis) the ticket seller warned me vaguely about the explicit nature of the show: In Pittsburgh I had a rather large woman stomp on my feet as she disgustedly left the theater before the first act was over.

It's true: Spring Awakening is not a show for everyone and along with explicit lyrics features brief nudity and a simulated sex scene. But it's also true that those most likely to be offended by these aspects are the ones that most need to benefit from the message (for a more detailed synopsis the Wikipedia page is pretty accurate). When I saw Spring Awakening on the schedule for this season at Lakewood's Beck Center for the Arts I was both intrigued and apprehensive: Wanting to see the ground-breaking musical again but afraid that my fond memories would be tainted by a watered down version, poor execution, or both.

Rachel and I headed over for tonight's performance and found neither to be the case. The Beck production, a collaboration with Baldwin-Wallace College's Musical Theatre Program, retains the full vigor of the original book. While the staging was considerably, but not completely, different (notable changes include removing the audience risers stage left and right and pushing the Adult Man and Adult Woman to the extreme corners of the stage apron for most of their dialog; notable similarities are the raised square platform upon which the majority of the cation takes place with the band behind) the story telling was no worse for the wear.

Beyond that it's hard for me to comment on  the blocking and choreography generally: there were a few humorous moments in the first national tour that were lost here (namely in between the two Mama Who  Bore Mes as well as within My Junk) but as a new production with a new creative team it is unreasonable to expect a duplicate, let alone a precise copy of the original, and I doubt that those not familiar with the First National Tour are likely to miss anything.

That is to say, this production under well-known Cleveland musical director Victoria Bussert's direction was satisfying. Audio issues plagued the first act rising to the level of distraction with uneven and wildly varying speech levels (at times leaving some talent with loud open mics, and other talent unmiced) and several of the females were almost naisly -- both seemed largely resolved by Act II.

Generally well cast, Kyra Kennedy's Wendla struck me as a little too mature (and less innocent) than one would expect from a character oblivious to the birds and the bees. James Penca, on the other hand, played Moritz with a more biting sarcasm than I'm used to, particularly in his musical numbers. While I'm still a bit undecided, I think the net was positive. I certainly noticed some nuances  in the dialogue, specifically among the boys, that I hadn't noticed before.
Adult Male (Scott Plate) all of the adult roles in the show -- as parents to youth as necessary and as school headmaster -- makes subtle changes for each of his roles, though the show would be well served if he hit the desk a bit less emphatically as it is a bit jarring.
All-in-all  it was an excellent performance and it seemed to be well received by a diverse audience, and I even observed several of the, shall we say, older audience members thoroughly enjoying some of the cruder references.
I've been needing a fill of Musical Theater and this was just the ticket. Through March 4th at the Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Ave, Lakewood.

No comments:

Post a Comment