Spring Awakening addresses provocative issues
Pregnancy, incest, suicide, and rape — every controversial issue was included in the Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s (PMT) performance of Spring Awakening this past Friday at the Byham theater. Spring Awakening is the musical adaptation of a banned 1891 German play, featuring a chilling folk-infused, alternative rock score by composer Duncan Sheik.
The plot focuses on a group of disquieted teenagers living in a small town in Victorian Germany. As the characters’ sexual feelings begin to stir, they find themselves fighting their tyrannous adult superiors and the rigid, conservative belief system of their society. The play — which deals with emerging sexual desires, loss of virginity, homosexuality, teen suicide, botched abortion, masturbation, child abuse, shame, and death — won eight Tony Awards (including Best Musical) after its original Broadway debut in 2006.
Although Spring Awakening is a dark and emotionally demanding show, PMT’s mostly college-aged cast gave a Broadway-caliber performance. Kathlene Queen, a PMT veteran, began the show as Wendla, singing the haunting opening number that pulled the audience in and set the tone for the rest of the show. Logan Williams, a senior at Robert Morris University, played the strong-willed, rebellious Melchior and, hitting each note decisively, had perhaps the most memorable voice of the evening.
As the lead roles, Queen and Williams had remarkable chemistry together. They brought a sense of urgency and honesty to their fragile relationship on stage as two sheltered and confused teenagers in love. This chemistry was demonstrated during the love-making scene at the end of Act I, the most important and powerful scene of the show. The scene is very explicit: Both actors showed some skin and pretended to have sex on stage, and the audience watched as Williams’ character simulated acts of sexual foreplay before he and Wendla made love. Although this scene definitely has the potential to be awkward on stage, Williams and Queen delivered a realistic, raw, and moving performance.
Jameson Corrie played Moritz Stiefel, Melchior’s troubled best friend who struggles with school. In addition to adding some comedy to this otherwise serious production, Corrie did a great job performing the unique choreography of Spring Awakening. During “The Bitch of Living,” a song about boys’ anguish in suppressing their sexual desires, Corrie and the other schoolboys jumped around stage haphazardly, stomping their feet and rocking air guitars.
Another outstanding performance was accomplished by Adrianne Knapp, who played Ilse. She is a societal outcast who ran away from home because her father beat her, only to run into the arms of another abusive man from a Bohemian colony.
Although the majority of the cast was composed of adolescents, two adults were responsible for playing all of the adult roles — including parents, teachers, and the clergy — to symbolically demonstrate the adults as formulaic and identical. Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre, a Robert Morris University theater professor, took on all of the female adult roles, while Brady Patsy, who teaches at PMT’s Richard E. Rauh Conservatory, played the male adults. Both did a terrific job of demonstrating the struggle between youth and adults in society.
PMT’s production of Spring Awakening stood out with its simple and personal style. The show was performed on a rectangular platform with no set or props other than an arrangement of wooden chairs, which were moved around and set up by the cast members themselves. Instead of a traditional orchestra, Spring Awakening boasted a rock band that played onstage behind the platform. The band was led by music director Tim Marquette, and it kept audience members tapping their toes for the entire show. But perhaps the most innovative aspect of Spring Awakening is that there were actually limited seats on the stage, allowing audience members to be a part of the show and experience the story in a whole new way.
When the curtain was drawn, Spring Awakening opened its audience to a world everybody knows. Whether you are currently an adolescent or an adult reminiscing on your past, you will connect with the honest, heartfelt characters fumbling on stage in attempts to find love and a good life. Although Spring Awakening is filled with comical and lighthearted scenes, the show ultimately forces the audience to face a myriad of challenges present in society today.
Most importantly, the production daringly compares our modern society to Puritanical 19th-century Germany, compelling us to be aware of the troubles that continue to haunt our world.
Spring Awakening is a musical everyone should see, and PMT offered an impressive production of the show. The show does contain strong language and explicit content. However, if that notion bothers you, it is perhaps all the more reason to go see it.