Photo credit: Daren Scott
Dylan Mulvaney and Jacob Caltrider in the scene from “Spring Awakening” at Cygnet Theatre.
The teen years are awkward – at best – for everyone. “Spring Awakening” takes those years from awkward to ghastly, in an honest and sometimes horrifying portrayal of the problems that can confront teens: physical and sexual abuse, rape, teen pregnancy, abortion, suicide.
Steven Sater updated Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German play “Frühlings Erwachen” (which was instantly labeled pornographic and banned), added Duncan Sheik’s pop-rock score, lots of neon lights and energetic choreography, and gave us the musical that won eight of the 11 Tonys (including best musical) for which it was nominated in 2007.
This is dark stuff, not for all tastes, but Cygnet Theatre presents the musical through April 27, directed by Sean Murray.
The story centers on three teens in a small provincial German town in the 1890s. Melchior Gabor (Dave Thomas Brown) is tall, blond, handsome and smart, so smart he even gets away with being a rebel, even with questioning his Latin master (Matt Thompson).
Melchior’s buddy Moritz Stiefel (Charles Evans Jr.) is at the other end of the academic scale, a depressive struggling with Virgil and equations, and haunted by erotic dreams he doesn’t understand. (“Please God, give me consumption and take away these sticky dreams,” he pleads.)
Pretty Wandla Bergmann (Taylor Aldrich) just wants to know where babies come from. “I’m an aunt for the second time and I don’t even know how it happens,” she whines, but is given only an unhelpful “explanation” from her mother (Debra Wanger).
Wedekind, considered the precursor of German expressionism in drama, gets an expressionist treatment at Cygnet. It starts with Ryan Grossheim’s puzzling set, from its spiky “crown of thorns” suspended from the ceiling to two silver-colored squares used (apparently) to give more of a thrust look to the stage. There are also a few platforms that can be wheeled on and off, but aside from the classroom chairs for the Latin class scenes, you’ll have to guess where you are.
The energetic young cast is fine and so are their voices, though most could use better diction and projection, if only because a musical that isn’t yet in the standard repertoire requires it. Aside from “Totally Fucked” (whose message is clear without words), these lyrics need better diction and the actors, better miking. Part of the shtick involves actors grabbing a (dead) standup mike before they sing. Perhaps they could give them live hand mikes instead, or turn up the levels on their personal mikes.
Terry O’Donnell’s six-man combo is fine, though at time they overpower the undermiked singers.
The choreography is suitably frenetic, though some of the moves (by Michael Mizerany) made the characters seem more like puppets than teenagers.
Brown’s Melchior is the outstanding exception to all complaints. He is excellent as both singer and actor and can be consistently heard and understood.
Evans is a convincing actor as the intense Moritz. He also has a lovely tenor voice, though his lyrics were not always comprehensible.
Aldrich is a lovely Wendla (with a beautiful voice), but her projection could use some work. I even had trouble understanding her lines.
Jacob Caltrider and Dylan Mulvaney are convincing as gay Hanschen and the innocent Ernst. Amy Perkins’ abused Martha, Katy Tang’s bad girl Ilse and Adi Mullen’s Thea add to the realistic aspects of the plot.
Thompson and Wanger are excellent as the adult men and women, respectively, adding authority and texture.
Chris Rynne’s lighting is fine, often superb, especially when he isolates characters.
“Spring Awakening” isn’t a typical musical in which problems arise, to be conveniently solved by the final curtain. This is a show about real problems (presented visually) with unpleasant outcomes.
“Spring Awakening” plays through April 27 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town.
Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
Tickets: (619) 337-1525 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.