Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Spring Awakening is a blast of pain and pathos

by Matthew Falduto

Cedar Rapids - They say never trust anyone over thirty.

I fit that category and so I am forced to wonder if I am the right person to review Theatre Cedar Rapids’ latest musical offering – Spring Awakening. There’s no doubt a younger man would more fully relate to these characters and the angst through which they swim. But even someone twenty plus years divorced from those overwhelming tides of emotions and shocking discoveries can remember… and in fact this show brought it all back in a rock and roll blast of pain and pathos.

This is a show about the ache and ecstasy of our teen years. It touches on every topic imaginable – first sex, masturbation, sexual abuse, suicide, homosexuality… it’s all in there. Set in the 19th century but infused with an alternative rock score, this show transcends time which is certainly appropriate - teens have been dealing with these issues forever. Melchior (Alex Doser) and Wendla (Nikki Stewart) are the main characters of the show, each struggling with understanding these new emotions and desires. Wendla can't get the answers to her questions from her uptight mother and Melchior, a well read teen, tries to help his buddy Moritz deal with his confusing dreams. Both of these actions have tragic consequences. 

Both Doser and Stewart have excellent voices, but what’s more they expertly convey the emotions of the characters through song. The supporting actors possess rich voices as well, particularly David Wasserman as the troubled Moritz, Carly Herron as the damaged Martha, and Lacie Thompson as the wild child Ilse. Wasserman has perhaps the most challenging role in the show and he completely embodies the character’s nervousness, confusion, desperation and angst.

The standout moment of the show for me was the song ‘The Dark I Know Well.’ Carly Herron’s haunting delivery of this deeply painful song was simply breathtaking.

Jonathon Schmidt and Sara Maslowski did a great job of portraying all of the adult characters in the show. Schmidt in particular had a number of challenging moments as a vicious and later bereaved father, and the fact that he established these characters with so little material is a testament to his skill.   

The technical aspects of the show were wonderful. Video projection on four differently shaped screens emphasized the setting, set the mood, or heightened the emotion. At other times, the screens were used to show live video of the action of the show. This was a great choice particularly during the more bombastic songs, like the in-your-face anthem 'Totally Fucked.'

Scott Ollinger’s set was simple but effective with a rising platform that was used to great effect in a number of scenes. Derek Easton’s lighting ran the gamut. Sometimes evocative, sometimes forceful like a rock concert and at other times subtle, the lighting always connected well to the action of the show.

And speaking of the rock concert atmosphere, the orchestra was fantastic. Musical Director Janelle Lauer on keyboards was a joy to watch as the passion of her playing added to the power of the show.

I strongly encourage everyone to see Spring Awakening. But let me take a moment to speak directly to the parents of teenagers: see it with your kids. It might be a little uncomfortable. But they’re thinking about all of this stuff anyway and this show may be just the catalyst you need to start a really important conversation. If there’s one thing that this show demonstrates quite clearly it’s that the disconnect between parents and teens can lead to tragedy.


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